It’s always been tough to make a living in the arts in Ireland. It gives us plenty of character and much material for moaning. But it’s a wonderful thing to be able to do a job you’re passionate about, as well as contributing to your community and to Irish culture.
To help us out in this strange and unforgiving career, we have things like the Arts Council, the Artists’ Exemption and excellent arts organizations like Poetry Ireland and Children’s Books Ireland. A lot of people work very hard to maintain a culture of creativity in this country, so that all of our best writers, painters, musicians, film-makers and other artists don’t automatically say: ‘Hey, let’s get out of this little backwater bog of a country and head off across the pond to where we can actually earn enough to pay the rent!’.
Which is why it’s so important to sign up for the National Campaign for the Arts. The government, faced with an economy that is looking more and more like a disaster movie, is threatening huge cuts across the arts. We’re often seen as a soft target, because nobody will die from lack of painting, or from being deprived of a theatre visit – which would be a fair argument, if those in charge could run the more vital services properly as a result, which they seem unable to do.
But cutting the funding to the arts will affect everyone from schoolchildren to film studios. These cuts mean there will be less books published, less art, less music and film and theatre. We’ll have to import it all instead. And since our kids could well end up paying off the huge debts we’ll have run up by the time they finish college, they’re going to need initiative and fertile imaginations to succeed. Assuming, of course, they don’t immediately head off to all the other countries that are, by then, providing all of our culture and entertainment for us. That’s where the arts come in.
For some reason, Arts, Sports and Tourism are all run by the same government department. I’d love to know who thought that was a good idea. In case you didn’t know (and there are many who don’t), the minister in charge of this bizarre mix of responsibilites is Martin Cullen – him in the picture. We need to show the government how many people these cuts are going to piss off. If you are one of those people, please click on this ‘I Am Really Pissed Off’ link right now and sign up.
Another major issue in the book industry is digital publishing. It’s happening big and fast and anyone involved in, or with a passion for, books needs to educate themselves about the positive and negative aspects. You can see an article I’ve written about it here, or get the December issue of Inis Magazine, which has a number of articles devoted to digital matters (including my one).
Children’s Books Ireland are also holding a one-day seminar on digital publishing, with speakers such as Eoin Purcell, Susan Carleton, Ivan O’Brien and Vanessa Robertson. It promises to be an informative session.
I was also recently sent a link to an excellent article in the Guardian on Waterstone’s, who have come to dominate the book market. It describes how the retail giant’s competition with the likes of the supermarket chains has created a culture of massive discounting on books – a culture that is constricting what kinds of books publishers can publish and driving independent booksellers out of business.
Discounting the prices of books has become a massive problem in publishing, causing no end of tension between publishers and authors. Authors normally get a percentage of the recommended price of the book – or in rare cases, a percentage of the final price the book is sold at. But as contracts get increasingly complicated, the proportion of books sold as part of some special discount deal or other is getting steadily larger, so authors (and publishers) are being paid less and less for each book. There is also no set standard for ebooks in contracts – so that’s a whole other can of worms that is only now being levered open.
As it stands at the moment, you could have a bestseller every year in Ireland and still not make a living. The market is just too small. Let’s hope that after the government and the retailers’ race to the bottom in the price war have done their worst, Ireland still has a native publishing industry worth talking about.