Burning Eye Books has launched a crowdfunding page in an effort to continue publishing, after the pandemic "shredded" its finances.
The independent press, which specialises in publishing spoken word poetry, saw sales down 40% by the end of 2020-2021 financial year, a slump that has continued throughout 2021. It is now is aiming to raise £5,000 and has already received donations from the book community.
Founder Clive Birnie said the press had weathered the pandemic "badly". He founded Burning Eye in 2012 to accommodate the growing performance poetry scene and print the performed texts. He operates the press from home with his wife Kate and editor and publisher Bridget Hart, publishing roughly 20 titles a year — a number that reduced to 15 in 2020 and 2021. It has published the early work of writers including Salena Godden, Hollie McNish and Ray Antrobus.
"Nearly 10 years on we remain the only publisher focused solely on this niche. But niche it is," he said. Both he and his wife go unpaid for the work they do for the press, relying on other jobs to make a living.
The cancellation of live events was particularly detrimental to Burning Eye. Pre-Covid, sales from the press' live touring poet events accounted for two thirds of revenue, which plummeted over the course of nearly two years.
"Our mission has always been to help poets make a living from being poets — the pandemic shredded this," Birnie said. "Trade sales have held up very well and direct web sales are up modestly but not enough to compensate for the demolition of our key sales channel. Live events are only just re-emerging with new restrictions on the way. Two years without key events such as Womad, the Edinburgh Fringe and the country-wide network of small poetry nights has had a huge impact."
In addition, Birnie was ill for almost a year with long Covid, meaning he was unable to apply for emergency funding. The press has received no pandemic financial assistance, and the Birnies tried to top up the business with personal funds.
"Our original aim was modest," Birnie said. "I thought if we raised a couple of thousand we would have done well. Five would make a huge difference. Like most of the small indie presses we are masters of making small amounts go a long way.
"The response has been beyond expectations. We have had £1,400 of donations so far and a big boost to web sales which for any press is good margin business so that has helped as well."
The money will be used to help pay the freelances who are "crucial to putting new titles out" and to help the team recover its reserves. Birnie is still concerned about the continued impact Covid-19 has had on live events, and is appealing for printers to consider longer payment terms.
"I know we are not the only under-capitalised small press that finds the long differential a challenge at times," he added.