Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Poisoned Chalice

In today's Guardian Bookseller column Joel Rickett muses about the loss of Arts Council funding to translation specialists Arcadia and Dedalus:
...their plight underlines the dangers of factoring public subsidy into your business model; sooner or later, political priorities change and you'll be left stranded.
Well, it's true, public funding has always been a bit of a poisoned chalice in that way (and sometimes offered with a cavalier hand): we always had the most generous Arts Council grant for the short story mag metropolitan, but I'll never forget how depressed, and threatened, I felt the day the Literature Panel wrote to discourage us from publishing so many of 'that length' of story - and utterly puzzled (as the Bush Theatre has been on this occasion), since the stories we published varied in length from 1,000 to 12,000!

But there has to be a place for public funding in a climate of rampant commercialisation, and I feel as dismayed and confounded as anyone about the loss to Arcadia and Dedalus and theatres such as The Bush. However, as Rickett goes on:
A cannier approach is to win a one-off lump sum that will enable you to become self-sustaining. The feisty poetry specialist Salt Publishing, which convinced the Arts Council to invest £185,000 in its website and direct sales operation, is now on the road to profitability.
Well, I cheer this sentiment (not least because I've been sprinkled with Salt myself): as I've always said, you can sell anything if you find the right marketing strategy. This week Salt has been shortlisted for the Nielsen Innovation of the Year Award (a category of the UK's annual Independent Publishing Awards, 2008) for bucking the trend by increasing its sales via 'online marketing, partnerships and brand development'.
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