EIBF 2017: Publishing Scotland - Culture Versus Commerce

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Tina Arnold, Francis Bidmore, Bob Davidson, Alana Wilcox, Katie Lockwood-Holmes (chair)
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Publishing Scotland’s event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, was entitled ‘Culture Versus Commerce’ and although Chair Katie Lockwood-Holmes of Edinburgh-based Floris Books attempted to keep the four contributors to the debate focused on the topic, discussion inevitably broadened out to include other aspects of the publishing scene.

Apart from Lockwood-Holmes, Scottish publishing was represented by Francis Bidmore of Canongate and Bob Davidson of Sandstone Press, based in Dingwall. The Publishing Scotland International Fellows whom the audience got to encounter were Alana Wilcox of Coach House Books based in Toronto and Tina Arnold of DTV (Deutches Taschenbuch Verlag) based in Munich. All brought their own unique perspectives and experience to the topic, and by their diversity helped to illuminate it.

The individual personalities of the panellists also contributed to this stimulating debate. All cared deeply about their books and the houses which produced them, but the vision of each was distinctly different, a reflection, in part, of the individual enterprises themselves.

While Tina Arnold represented the great European tradition of serious and scholarly publishing, perhaps a little too dismissive of the recent upsurge in independent and self-publication, her approach was not mirrored by those of Bidmore and Davidson, the former pointing to the success Canongate had enjoyed with titles such as ‘The Life of Pi’ which Bidmore felt reflected the comparative freedom available to Scottish publishing houses less constrained than London ones by the tyranny of the bottom line.

Davidson, however, pointed out that publishing remains a commercial activity, no matter how sensitively the work of authors is treated in the process of publication. Alana Wilcox’s Coach House Books have the blessing of their own printing establishment, but even such in-house advantages do little to make publishing a less precarious undertaking. Although it unavoidably did not come to any definitive conclusion concerning the competing claims of commerce and culture, this was nonetheless a stimulating and highly informative discussion.