Inpress has insisted the services offered by the Poetry Book Society are "very much alive" following the corporate entity's move into liquidation, and that Inpress will be "powering up rather than winding down its activities".
Yesterday (3rd June) PBS announced it had gone into liquidation, and that its book club and the prestigious T S Eliot Prize would be transferred to Inpress and the T S Eliot Foundation respectively.
Ian Grant, chairman of Inpress, said: “The Poetry Book Society, now owned by Inpress, is very much alive and will be powering up rather than winding down its activities. The corporate charitable entity formerly known as the Poetry Book Society, on the other hand, has gone into liquidation.
"The former directors wished to preserve the continuity of the service to its members, the poets and publishers whom it has supported since 1953 so before the company closed they worked very hard with the directors of Inpress to find a new home for the name - the Poetry Book Society - the goodwill, the format and most importantly the continuing interests of the membership.”
He added: “Inpress is honoured to take up and continue the long tradition of the PBS, founded by T S Eliot, Basil Blackwell and a fine list of publishing names in the original Articles of Association, to maintain and develop good relations with members, all poetry publishers, poets and the wider literary community whom Inpress serves.”
However, the closure of the corporate entity of PBS and the loss its staff has been met with sadness by some publishers and poetry organisations, who have reflected on the "challenging" economics of poetry publishing.
Judith Palmer, director for The Poetry Society, said in reaction: "It’s a sad day to see the (corporate entity of) the Poetry Book Society winding up, and we feel for their team for whom it’s obviously a difficult time. But it’s great that they have found a positive solution with Inpress which is clearly committed to building on the PBS’s legacy. There’s every reason to hope that Inpress will ensure that readers, poets and poetry presses don’t lose out, as they continue the PBS’s mission to expand readerships."
Also hopeful for the future of PBS is Neil Astley at Bloodaxe Books, who said poetry publishers will "not be unduly affected" so long as the key elements of the PBS’s work continued.
In support of the work of the Arts Council England (ACE) in facilitating the transfer, he said that ACE had bailed out the society by repaying outstanding moneys owed to publishers in the region of £14,000. A spokesperson at Arts Council England confirmed it gave a one-off grant to ensure that the remaining payments to publishers, small poetry presses and individual artists were honoured.
Astley said: "My understanding is that the move to Inpress wouldn’t have come off without the Arts Council stepping in as they have done to assist with covering the deficit, and even though that deficit isn’t big in their terms, I’m delighted that they’ve seen fit to help in this way, despite having cut the PBS's grant earlier, and particularly since they must take some responsibility for the PBS having to close after supporting the wonderful service it provided for many years."
The whole situation has brought the "challenging" economics of the poetry world into sharp focus for many, with Adrian Searle, publisher at Freight Books, commenting that they simply "don't work". He said: "Poetry, quite rightly, is seen as one of the highest forms of literature, enriching lives, but, as any poet will tell you, the economics don’t work. Here we see one of the many consequences of government cuts within the arts. An organisation making a valuable contribution to the promotion of poetry has all but ceased operations. It’s sad news."
Prize-winning poet Ian McEwen echoed the sentiment, calling it "particularly galling" on top of loss of funding for The Poetry Trust, which lost its ACE National Portfolio Organisation status at the end of last year. The Poetry Trust's operations are currently taking "a pause" in light of its financial predicament, he said.
McEwen said: "Well funded flagship organisations like The Poetry Society do a great deal for the sector, but it is almost impossible for the middle tier of publishers, festivals, poetry nights and magazines to make ends meet. This raises the question of the concentration of the power of patronage in a very few hands indeed (and more and more of those hands associated with the spoken word/performance strand of the poetry world)."
He added: "Poetry will survive, but it is another chip away at infrastructure we can ill afford to lose."
Sadness was also expressed online at the society's demise, with freelance editor Martin Fletcher, a former editor in chief for Simon & Schuster, calling it “another small step towards our cultural impoverishment”.
Waterstones' director of buying Kate Skipper however reflected: "Sad news. Poetry remains an extremely challenging market."
Grant added: "Arts Council England, in London and in the north of England, has been very supportive of the transaction, both in spirit and in practical help for the transitional year as the PBS occupies its new home.
"Sophie O’Neill, the managing director of Inpress, whose vision for the future of the PBS drove the transaction, welcomes approaches from publishers who wish to have books considered for selection, and writers who wish to contribute to the quarterly bulletin. Inpress looks forward to developing a vibrant future for the PBS."
Over last five years, poetry and anthologies as a category sold 4.77m books through Nielsen BookScan TCM for £42.2m. 2016 has so far seen 276,685 books sold for £2,566,046 but 2015 was the category’s biggest year to date in volume sales ever recorded by Nielsen, with 1.08m books sold for £8.88m: the first time it surpassed one million books sold.