Start-ups add to 'heartening' mood in Scottish publishing

Start-ups add to 'heartening' mood in Scottish publishing

Publishing Scotland’s chief executive Marion Sinclair has said that there is a “heartening” mood in Scottish publishing, with new candidates ready to take on the crown of Edinburgh stalwart Mainstream.

Bill Campbell and Peter MacKenzie, Mainstream’s co-founders, last week announced that the company would cease forward publishing after 35 years, closing its Edinburgh office, and selling its backlist to Random House. Campbell denied that they attempted to find a buyer for the business and described the development as a “planned exit” for himself and MacKenzie.

Sinclair, speaking during this year’s Publishing Scotland conference held in Edinburgh on Monday (4th March), said it was “very sad to lose a bit of a pillar of the industry” in Mainstream. Although the conditions for general publishing were quite tough, she said, there was a “quite heartening” mood, with fresh growth for Scottish publishing in young companies including Freight Books, which specialises in high quality fiction, Glasgow-based Cargo Publishing, and Kohl Publishing, which publishes books for women.

Sinclair also singled out sports book publisher Back Page Press, founded in 2009, as one capable of following in Mainstream’s footsteps. “The young start-up is something Scotland can do well,” she said.  

The conference heard leading booksellers argue that publishers should offer them longer payment terms in order to reward and protect the added value the physical bookshop represents. Booksellers Association president Patrick Neale and its vice-president, and Blackwell m.d., David Prescott stressed the need for booksellers to offer more than online retailers in terms of curation and community-specific offers.

Waterstones head of business development Neil Best said: “Showroom space on the high steet is expensive and it needs to be subsidised, and we have to find means of making that mechanic work much more effectively for both parties, because in terms of the costs, a lot of that falls on the bookseller.”

Neale praised the “strong, sensible business arrangement between booksellers and publishers” he had witnessed on his recent trip to the ABA conference in the US, telling questioner Marie Moser, owner of The Edinburgh Bookshop, “Extended credit seems to be quite a sensible tactic to me.”

Delegates also heard about the importance of a streamlined digital and physical offering for both booksellers and publishers, particularly in Scotland where 13% of all book purchases were e-books. According to Bowker book market data from January–November 2012, presented by research director Steve Bohme, the proportion of sales that are e-books in Scotland was the highest anywhere in the UK.

Bohme argued independent booksellers must be conscious that their consumers are likely to own an e-reading device, with 24% of independent bookshop users owning an e-reader, 20% owning a tablet, and 51% owning a smartphone. However, independent bookshops in Scotland only snagged 4% of total book spend in volume terms last year, despite 31% of consumers naming browsing as the number one way of discovering books, and 56% of them selecting a physical bookshop as their top place to browse.