A Galley Beggar Press fundraiser has raised £20,000 within an hour of launching, as the indie faces a £40,000 "black hole" from The Book People’s administration status.
Founders of the Norwich-based press Sam Jordison and Eloise Millar set up the GoFundMe target of £15,000 on Wednesday morning (18th December) after discovering they may not be paid for a special edition of the Booker Prize-shortlisted title Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport. They developed a special edition of the 1,000-page novel, written almost entirely in one long sentence, as a Booker Prize set for The Book People. On Tuesday (17th December) it emerged that the online retailer has gone into administration owing to a “difficult trading environment that the business has been experiencing, combined with increasing working capital pressures", which leaves publishers such as Galley Beggar in crisis.
The fundraiser reads: "We're so sorry to ask you so close to Christmas—but we urgently need your help. You may have read that the Book People has gone into administration. It’s a terrible thing to happen to a company at this time of year and our heart goes out to all the people there whose jobs are under threat.
"There are also going to be painful knock-on effects of this sad situation throughout the book industry. One of them, I’m sorry to tell you, is that it has put Galley Beggar Press under threat. The Book People owe us over £40,000—and that is make-or-break for a small company like us. One of the painful things about this is that we would never normally take the risk of having someone owe us £40k. We entered into a partnership with The Book People as part of our involvement with the Booker Prize this year and Ducks, Newburyport's shortlisting.
"They wanted 8,000 books, and would pay just over £40,000. It also involved designing a whole new edition (which we put together in four days, working around the clock), complicated negotiations with printers, and generally, an awful lot of work. But it should have been a good thing. If the money had arrived. We were actually due to be paid right after Christmas—and it would have allowed us to pay the many print bills that the Booker has involved, shore up against trade returns (inevitable, when a novel soars in popularity), and set us straight for the New Year."
However the Book People going into administration has thrown Galley Beggar’s future into jeopardy. "We've been on the phone to The Book People this morning. They will not be paying us the money in the immediate future. Which leaves us with a £40,000+ black hole. … And has turned what should have been the best year of our little company's life into its worst— and something that might kill it. So we need your help.
"It does feel like make or break, and we need the readers who have supported us every step of the way."
Jordison wrote that "The Book People have been undone by Amazon and Brexit. There’s clearly a reason The Book People’s funders should have pulled the plug right now".
"We did these exclusive hardback editions, we were really delighted with them and they are probably in a warehouse in Bangor, although lots have been bought. It was the first time we’d worked with The Book People."
While he has sympathy for the company—which employs almost 400 employees—he is concerned that his own publisher will now fold as a result. “My heart goes out to the staff at The Book People but we have to survive too. We have more books to publish and for a small company it is a big balance. It was due to arrive in two weeks and we maxed out our credit cards and dipped into savings and kept saying ‘it’s ok, it’ll come.’ It’s pretty devastating. We spoke to our contact there and felt really sorry for her because her job is on the line, I think administrators are in the building which is so sad right before Christmas.”
The future remains unclear as to whether Galley Beggar will recoup its costs from the exclusive edition set. "If they sell the company then we get something, we have to go and prove that we are owed this money. It takes time and money, and books still need to be printed. We were like, ‘Oh God, what are we going to do?’ And so we decided to set up the fundraiser. We have amazing readers and supporters and they have done incredible things for us in the past and it feels so bad going back to them.”
The independent press, which formed in 2012, has run previous crowdfunders including a £10,000 drive in March to expand.
Jordison and Millar had hoped to pay Ellmann royalties as she is yet to see much in the way of financial reward from her acclaimed book. "Some of the money is Lucy’s royalties and we want to support her and set things up for our other authors. We were going to pay her some royalties early… luckily she has had the Goldsmiths Prize [in November]. The whole thing has cost her money really so we wanted to have given her something so she could feel the benefit of the book. This feels like the only thing we could do but it feels bad asking for money so close to Christmas."
When told the fundraiser had raised more than £6,000 in half an hour, Jordison said: "That is amazing. That makes me so happy. If we can make up the shortfall that would be incredible, just unbelievable. I just want to say how incredibly grateful we are." The total had reached almost £20,000 before midday.
However he believes that the wider tumultuous political situation has caused this situation. He told The Bookseller: "It is hard to believe that in the week that Brexit has been confirmed that this is a coincidence. We have been one of the publishers who argued against it most vociferously and now we are one of the first to be brought down by it. Unfortunately small companies all over the country are going to have to find new ways of coping with the things being hurled at us by Brexit. If we can help others with our experience then we can hopefully march on."
The situation for other publishers affected by The Book People’s troubles remains unclear. Endless, the firm’s owner, had reportedly been trying to find a buyer in recent weeks. Publishers revealed sadness at the news at the company’s apparent demise, with Hilary Murray Hill, c.e.o. of Hachette Children’s Group telling The Bookseller: "Clearly we, and other UK children’s book publishers, will be hoping for a positive outcome."