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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 19, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

    Festivals should get nationalised

    Laurence Mackin

    News galloped over the horizon this week of not one but two books festivals taking place in spring (by galloped we mean emailed, and by horizon we mean press release, but you get the mechanics of the thing).

    The larger of the two, we assume, is the Dublin Book Festival, which is taking place from March 2nd to 6th (which should not be confused with the Dublin Writers Festival, which is scheduled for May). We say assume, because other than the dates, we have not a jot more information about it – not one single name has been announced, but watch this space. You can read (not much) more here at the festival’s website.

    The Ennis Bookclub Festival has been much more forthcoming with the goods. Among those making an appearance will be Tom Conaty, John Curran, Nancy Dowd,
    Anne Enright, Vona Groarke, Pauline McLynn, Eamon Sweeney, Peter Sheridan, Blake Morrison and Paul Murray. You can read more here. And when is it on? March 4th to 6th.

    So two books festivals on the same weekend then? At first glance, that might seem a touch foolhardy, but on reflection it makes sense. How many people are effectively going to travel from Ennis to the Dublin festival and vice versa? Probably very few, so the point of the two clashing is probably moot.

    It also raises an intriguing option for festivals, especially in Ireland’s particular circumstances. Getting a big-name draw here for festivals is relatively expensive, be it for books, arts or music. Bands, for example, can make a decent living touring in England because they can fly in and do a substantial tour, and get more bang for their travelling bucks around the country. Similarly, once you hit mainland Europe, everything else is a bus or train journey away. In Ireland, though, bands tend to fly in, play Dublin, and fly out again, and it makes the whole exercise relatively costly, which leads to increased ticket prices.

    But back to the festivals – perhaps promoters for festivals that target niche areas are being a bit short-sighted in focusing on one geographical location. Imagine, for example, a books festival that took in three cities: Dublin, Cork and Galway. A writer could fly into Dublin for a reading on Friday, and head for either of the other two towns over the weekend. The extra costs would be minimal, and fans would not have to make the trek away from their home (or would at least have a choice of venues in different parts of the country). Also, you could considerably increase your potential market. For example, you might be a fan of Jonathan Franzen, but not so much so that you would go to the extra expense and effort of travelling to another city to see him read. If he was just down the road, though, it’s a no brainer.

    Obviously, this is a slightly simplified model, but for festivals looking to make the most from meagre resources, it could be a good idea to see what is around and think about link ups and partnerships, especially for the smaller organisations. Rather than competing, they could cooperate and deliver big names in perhaps more interesting and more intimate venues. Performers would have the chance to potentially make more money from appearances, as well as the added incentive of performing in more colourful venues, while the benefits for punters are obvious. And no one would argue with that.


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