Monday, May 05, 2008

Books From Scotland - But Only If You're Lucky

According to today's Scotsman a web site that is supposed to promote Scottish literature has failed to meet its aims and is "bleeding cash." The site was launched in December 2005 with £100,000 from the Scottish Arts Council. It was billed as a "one-stop shop" for Scottish writing. Well I’ve never even heard of it before, which is a tad surprising considering what I do and where I live.

This week the owner of the web site, Publishing Scotland, saw its arts council grant increased from about £200,000 to £260,000 for "further development" of the site. This is barmy when we’re told that instead of selling 15,000 books a year it’s selling around 5,000 according to them. They claim that they are selling not substantially more than £15,000" worth of books a year in between 200 and 250 transactions a month. Let’s be charitable here and say they are selling 250 books a month, that equates to 3,000 books a year, so where does the 5,000 come in?

I thought I’d give the web site a whirl and put in a Scottish book I know, Alistair Moffat’s, ‘The Reivers’. According to booksfrom Scotland it’s not yet available, despite being published in June 2007 according to them. If it were it would be £16.99. On Amazon it is available and costs £11.99 so no wonder on the basis of this one title there’s a problem. According to the site their best seller is ‘Maw Broon’s Cookbook’, priced at £9.95, and it will dispatched in three days. On Amazon it’s £6.15 and will be dispatched from stock today. Even their book of the month, which was published in mid April 2008, is not yet in stock. Under their recommended books for May is this gem.

If you're planning on visiting this Scotland this year, then you can't go wrong with the latest edition of The Rough Guide to Scotland. Hopefully it won't suffer the same indignity as the recent Lonely Planet to Colombia, and will have been written by someone who has been here.

Hopefully? This is marketing?

How can taxpayer’s money be wasted in such a way? It’s absolutely the wrong kind of web site, doing the wrong kind of marketing that will never make serious difference. It will certainly never make money. Of course they now say that was more an information site than a sales site. Publishing Scotland’s, who run the web site, business development manager says. "We never said sales were going to be a prime aspect. As long as sales have been made of books by Scottish publishers, then we have done our job." Oh that life were that cosy for us in the real world. There are so many other, better, ways of marketing books from Scottish publishers than this boring, out of date, web site, but somehow the gravy train of grants just rolls ever onwards making people’s lives easier on the receiving end while doing little or nothing to affect the publishers and more importantly the writers at the bottom of the food chain.

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