Gill takeover is a good news story
A strong, locally owned large publisher is needed in Irish books and publishing
Books on the belt: Amazon posts books to lots of Irish customers. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
At the end of last month Hodder Moa, the New Zealand-based imprint of Hachette, announced that it was closing its doors. The move meant that editors in Australia would pick and publish books for the New Zealand market.
There’s no doubting the ability of Australian editors to pick good books, but the move weakens the cultural identity of New Zealand publishing.
The company blamed the closure on the growth of ebook sales and the online sales of books. Both those trends can be seen in Irish book publishing. Ebooks have been slower to take hold here than elsewhere, but Amazon.co.uk sells a huge number of books into the Irish market, and so do other online bookstores.
With the merger of Penguin and Random House, three of those imprints are now within one large company. The local offices are staffed by talented Irish editors, marketers and sales agents, but, as in New Zealand, if it suited corporate strategy they could easily be closed down and their output commissioned and published from London.
Even with a large number of Irish publishers and those local imprints of international publishers, books published in the UK sell in huge numbers in Ireland. In fact, between 70 and 80 per cent of all books sold in Ireland are published elsewhere, usually in the UK.
All of which makes the news that the Gill family is to take full control of Gill & Macmillan very welcome. The Gill takeover will mean that the largest trade publisher in the country will be an Irish-owned company. A strong, locally owned publisher, with owners committed entirely to the Irish market, is something the industry needs in this period of change.
That change is not simply due to the recession, though that has been quite harmful in itself. The real impact is that of online sales of books and ebooks on the old business model and, especially, on bookshops.
As bookstores come under pressure, so too do book publishers. As more shelf space within bookstores shifts away from books and towards other items, the less space there is to display the publications of Irish publishers.
There’s nobody to blame for these changes; technology cuts both ways, and as it makes distribution much easier online it reduces the profit that can be made from bricks-and-mortar stores.
Publishers will therefore have to change how they sell books and where they sell books, and a strong Irish publisher stands a better chance of doing that and remaining committed to Ireland than does a publisher based elsewhere for which Ireland is only a peripheral concern.