Regional focus: Books in Scotland

<p>Harriet Dennys</p><p>The Scottish book market has a distinct national identity: even locally-based books can catch the imagination of readers and sell throughout the country. Last Christmas, Ottakar's number one in Scotland was a true crime book, The Law Killers , set in Dundee. As Anthony Browne, Scottish marketing manager for Ottakar's, says: "A local book can take off across the whole of Scotland."</p><p>Since there is a substantial local market in Scotland, there is not much regional variation in reading tastes; the only slight variation is that, as more English people live on the east coast, rugby books sell well in Edinburgh and the Borders but not on the west coast. There is a historical bias towards literary fiction in Edinburgh and general and non-fiction titles in Glasgow, although Black&amp;White Publishing, which launched fiction imprint Chroma last August, reports that sales from its new list are evenly spread between the two cities.</p><p>The main issue for Scottish bookselling is to make sure that buyers for the chains--who may be based in England--appreciate that the Scottish book market requires a culturally specific approach to stock selection. </p><p>Lorraine Fannin, director of the Scottish Publishers Association, says: "Some chains forget that people in Scotland as a whole have a different reading profile. If the chain buyers are based in and accustomed to the south of England, they may have no intrinsic understanding of how the cultural offering in Scotland might need to be different."</p><p>Chain reaction</p><p>Scotland's books market--which has become increasingly indigenous since the establishment of the Scottish parliament in 1999--used to be catered for by the high street presence of three Scottish-owned book retailers: John Menzies, James Thin, and John Smith&amp;Son. But in recent years these chains went bust or were bought out; today, most Scottish general readers must pledge allegiance to either Ottakar's, Waterstone's or W H Smith.</p><p>This narrowing of choice means that publishers north of the border are particularly wary of HMV-owned Waterstone's bid for Ottakar's. If the takeover goes ahead, high street specialist bookselling would be reduced to a single chain in Aberdeen, Perth, Stirling, Dundee, Ayr, St Andrews, Dumfries, Inverness and Edinburgh. The proposed merger is perceived as a greater threat in Scotland because the proportion of books sold by supermarkets and chain stores is "significantly less" than in the rest of the UK, according to the SPA, which suggests in a submission to the Office of Fair Trading that the combined market share of the two chains in Scotland would reach more than 30%.</p><p>Reacting to the report on the proposed merger issued by the OFT in November, which states that Scotland should not be considered a distinct geographic market, the SPA says: "An issue of major concern is the shrinking of retail outlets for culturally relevant material. If the reading public in Scotland is not offered books representing its own cultural diversity, then it is deprived of a cultural identity."</p><p>The feeling among the SPA and Scottish publishers is that, whereas the internal structure of Ottakar's "genuinely reflects the Scottish books market", with Scottish marketing managers and two Scottish operations managers, Waterstone's has a "highly centralised" management structure and implements a strong central stock policy--the range of books with a Scottish identity sold by its stores comprises less than 1% of its total stock. </p><p>By contrast, Ottakar's brought together 15 young Scottish writers for a "Fresh Talent from Scotland" tour last October, and has an arrangement with The Herald newspaper to publish its bestseller charts each Saturday.</p><p>Fannin says: "Ottakar's local buying systems have always accounted for Scottish tastes, and the chain punches above its weight in terms of sales in Scotland because it is able to reflect what people like." Marc Lambert, c.e.o. of the Scottish Book Trust (SBT), agrees: "Ottakar's is responsive to the local market, and there is a danger of losing this if the [HMV/Waterstone's] takeover goes ahead."</p><p>Old shops, new shops</p><p>Scottish Green Party MSP Chris Ballance has persuaded the Competition Commission to come to Scotland to hear the case against the proposed takeover at a meeting on 2nd March, while the SPA is involved in an ongoing campaign to persuade W H Smith to introduce more Scottish books into its stores. Initiatives under discussion are quarterly buying meetings where Scottish publishers can present their books to WHS buyers, and having dedicated Scottish bays in every WHS branch.</p><p>Scotland also has a thriving independent scene--closure of much-missed Edinburgh independent Bauermeister last March aside. Strong independent booksellers include The Watermill in Aberfeldy, which combines the largest bookshop in the Highlands with an art gallery in a Grade A-listed former watermill; tiny Camphill Bookshop in Aberdeen, which has been open for business for 50 years; and Milngavie Bookshop on the outskirts of Glasgow, which combines a community-oriented bookstore with a caf&eacute;.</p><p>Another successful independent is Edinburgh's radical bookshop Word Power, which has remained afloat for 11 years thanks to its specialist stock of books on race, sex and class issues, and the environment, backed up by its "bread and butter" business selling university texts. The shop runs promotional events such as the Edinburgh Independent Radical Book Fair, now in its 10th year. It has set up publishing imprint Word Power Books, which has just published its third title: poetry anthology Sugar-Coated Pill.</p><p>Store profile: Blast-off Books</p><p>Blast-off Books, a dedicated children's independent bookshop in Linlithgow, West Lothian, opened its doors in December 2001 with its local community's support.</p><p>Owners Harriet and Janet Smyth, a mother and daughter team, were well-known in the area for their work with children. Janet's eight years with the Scottish Book Trust came to an end when the Readiscovery Book Bus project was wrapped up; her mother Harriet, a former teacher, was dragged out of retirement to help set up Blast-off Books. "We are quite compatible," says Janet. "Mum has an incredible knowledge of the school curriculum and of books for special needs children, while my knowledge is of general children's books."</p><p>The shop is "cosy" at just 200 sq ft, but it carries 3,000 titles. Mobiles and posters hang from the walls, and red shelving in blonde wood brightens up the interior. Important for the Smyths when choosing a site was a flat entrance for prams.</p><p>The shop happily co-exists with nearby Linlithgow Bookshop, naturally splitting responsibility for children's and adults' books between them. Blast-off Books runs the annual Children's Book Fest at a stately home, the House of the Binns, as well as organising external events with authors such as Alexander McCall Smith and Catherine Forde.</p><p>Turnover is around &#163;130,000, up threefold over the course of the shop's four years in business due to "courting of schools". In the early part of each year, school supply accounts for as much as 70% of sales. "The schools are careful with their budgets, and then have to spend them in the final part of their financial year, so there is a mad panic to buy books in late spring," says Janet. "We intend to make our website more sophisticated to make it the first port of call for local schools."</p><p>Scotland the creative</p><p>Scotland's literary credentials are first-rate. Scottish culture is defined by its writers, from Lewis Grassic Gibbon to Irvine Welsh; Edinburgh is the world's first designated UNESCO City of Literature; the famous Edinburgh International Book Festival is just one of six literary festivals that take place in Scotland each year; and there are an impressive number of organisations dedicated to the preservation of literature, poetry and the Scots language.</p><p> One such literary body is the Scottish Book Trust (SBT), which organised the first-ever writer's residency at the Scottish Parliament to explore the "complex, uneasy relationship between Scottish politics and literature". Over a week in November 2004, celebrated Scottish author James Robertson delivered three masterclasses to MSPs on books, reading and Scottish literature.</p><p>Robertson's groundwork has been built on by the formation of a parliamentary cross-party group for Scottish writing and publishing, which was set up by Chris Ballance MSP with the backing of the SBT last June. The launch event raised the issues of promoting Scottish writing in schools, tax breaks for writers, and the lack of a literature committee in the Scottish Arts Council; the group has since tackled topics such as how to get more Scottish books into Scottish schools and libraries.</p><p>"It was set up because there is a tremendous literary and publishing culture here in Scotland," says Marc Lambert, chief executive of the SBT. "We believe very strongly that the right steps must be taken to ensure that the creative industries are supported, and that there is a capacity for them to grow and achieve success."</p><p>Investment in arts</p><p>The most significant recent landmark in supporting Scotland's literary landscape is Scotland's Culture. This paper is Scottish culture minister Patricia Ferguson's response to last year's Cultural Commission report on the state of the arts in Scotland. One of the recommendations in Ferguson's reply, published last month, is the creation of a new organisation called Creative Scotland, which will incorporate the functions of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen--the film and television organisation--into one departmental public body.</p><p>The proposed remit of Creative Scotland includes enhancing the prominence of Scotland's literature, and developing the publishing sector's links into schools; offering business advice and investment services, such as soft loans for start-up publishing; and promoting national and international recognition of Scotland's talented artists. In addition, the report sets out a commitment to promoting and developing the Scots language "to create a sustainable future for the Gaelic language in Scotland".</p><p>Scotland's Culture highlights the "high national priority" attached to the maintenance and improvement of standards in non-national museums and libraries: the Scottish Executive plans to make a further &#163;500,000 available each year for the next two years to help improve the public library service.</p><p>Libraries lacking</p><p>Mary Nettlefold, independent consultant for libraries and publishing, welcomes the funding, but warns that libraries' service agreements must be addressed: there is no library supplier based in Scotland following the takeover of Farries by Coutts Library Services last autumn and the absorption of Cawdor Book Services into Holt Jackson in 2002.</p><p>She says: "The major problem for Scottish publishing is managing to get a supplier to hold stock of Scottish titles, as Cawdor used to do. I have worked on a project with the SPA to build a bibliography of Scottish books for libraries [part of www.booksfromscotland.com], but it still isn't a part of the regular selection process. Fewer and fewer Scottish books will make their way into libraries unless librarians and publishers make a great deal of effort to make sure they do."</p><p>Vibrant and local: Scottish publishing</p><p>Over the past five years, all the Scottish publishers have upped their game, according to Anthony Browne, Scottish marketing manager for Ottakar's. Browne has witnessed Scottish publishers' lists becoming "extremely strong" and their systems for capitalising on successful books becoming much more professional: around Christmas, it is now books from Scottish presses that dominate the charts.</p><p>Scotland's bullish publishing industry--which produces around 2,000 titles a year and has a turnover that is 60% generated by sales outside Scotland--has made London publishers increasingly receptive to books coming from north of the border.</p><p>"London publishers are aware that Scottish literature can perform very well," says Campbell Brown, m.d. of Black&amp;White Publishing, which has an emphasis on Scottish non-fiction. "This is great for us because the chains will look to us for books to sell on a national basis rather than just in Scotland."</p><p>Scots online</p><p>The upbeat mood north of the border has been further lifted by the launch of an online bookshop holding 18,000 Scottish titles, which was unveiled last November to provide a new avenue for sales of books of Scottish interest and from Scottish publishers.</p><p>Booksfromscotland.com, set up in response to recommendations in a 2004 Arts Council report, is already proving popular with Scottish presses. Fiona Brownlee, marketing director at Mainstream Publishing, welcomes the speed at which the site can post news of a new book with an extract and publisher credit. A second site, www.braw.org.uk, aims to become the number one resource for children's literature in Scotland.</p><p>Authors who have helped raise the profile of Scottish publishing include big names such as Ian Rankin, J K Rowling and Alexander McCall Smith, as well as new literary talent including Anne Donovan, Laura Marney and Alison Miller. "There are all kinds of wonderful writers up here," says Judy Moir, editor-at-large for Penguin Scotland. "Scottish publishing is becoming more and more buoyant."</p><p>The Scottish Publishers Association has 62 members, of which 11 are small presses. Among the larger publishers in Scotland are D C Thomson, Berlinn and Mainstream; there are also offshoots of London publishers, such as Penguin and Hodder.</p><p>Rising stars include Barrington Stoke, which produces fiction and resources for reluctant readers; non-fiction press Fort Publishing; outdoor specialist Pocket Mountains; and Mercat Press, which has a wide and vibrant list spanning photographic books, walking guides, history, biography, classics and children's poetry.</p><p>Berlinn--the seventh fastest-growing small to medium-sized enterprise in Scotland--was set up in 1992 and now has 750 titles in print, publishing around 150 new books a year. Scottish titles make up 90% to 95% of its lists, which are divided between the general Berlinn list, fiction imprint Polygon, and academic imprint John Donald. Polygon, acquired in 2001, is best known for publishing the phenomenon that is Alexander McCall Smith.</p><p>Other presses that publish predominantly Scottish books are Black&amp;White Publishing, Luath Press, and Mainstream, which publishes a bi-monthly Scottish-interest newsletter for customers. Black&amp;White, which has been in business since 1990, is strong in non-fiction, and also has a Scots language children's imprint, Itchycoo, and a fiction list called Chroma, which launched at the 2005 Edinburgh Book Fair. Black and White publishes 45 to 50 titles a year; one bestseller has been true crime title Vendetta by Paul Ferris and Reg McKay.</p><p>Mainstream, which is 50% owned by Random House Group, publishes only non-fiction, from biography to sport and popular culture; successes include Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale and Jihad! by Tom Carew. Luath Press is "committed to publishing well-written books worth reading" across fiction and non-fiction, and 80% to 90% of its books have a Scottish connection. Established in 1981, Luath has 150 books in print and publishes 20 to 30 new titles a year.</p><p>Canongate is a more international-facing house than most: it has a London office, and partnerships with Text Publishing in Australia and Grove Atlantic in the US. Led by a senior management team of six, including m.d. David Graham and publisher Jamie Byng, and with 23 employees, Canongate publishes 70 books a year in the UK. Its fortunes took off in 2002 with Yann Martel's Man Booker-winning Life of Pi; successes post-Pi include The People's Act of Love by James Meek and The Game by Neil Strauss.</p><p>Academic &eacute;lite</p><p>Scotland has its share of academic and educational publishers, including Chambers Harrap, with a core business of publishing dictionaries and thesauruses; Edinburgh University Press, which has leading lists in Scottish history and Scottish studies; and Granada Learning-owned Leckie&amp;Leckie, which publishes educational books for the Scottish curriculum. It also holds a contract with the Scottish Qualifications Authority to publish past papers for 70 different exams.</p><p>Another educational publisher is Hodder Headline offshoot HodderGibson, which publishes educational textbooks and revision guides. Hodder Headline's non-fiction and fiction interests are represented in Scotland by HodderScotland--one-man band Bob McDevitt--who scouts for new Scottish writers and has responsibility for publicity, sales and marketing.</p><p>McDevitt's opposite number at Penguin Scotland is Judy Moir, also a one-person operation, whose job as editor-in-chief is to choose the best new titles from Scotland and feed them into London-based Penguin imprints. Moir's remit is to publish primarily Scottish books, fiction or non-fiction: two d