Irish publishing body says not paying writers is uncommon

Liberties Press admits it has not been paying some of its writers their royalties

Penguin Ireland managing director Michael McLoughlin described Liberties Press as an “outlier” at a time when book sales are recovering. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Penguin Ireland managing director Michael McLoughlin described Liberties Press as an “outlier” at a time when book sales are recovering. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The organisation that represents the publishing industry in Ireland has said the non-payment of authors is not widespread in the books trade.

Liberties Press publisher Séan O’Keeffe has admitted a lot of authors and a small number of former staff have not been paid. He has apologised and said that the best way for them to get their money is for him to continue in business.

It follows an investigation by The Irish Times in which 11 authors and three former members of staff came forward to say they had not been paid what was owed to them.

Liberties Press has published books by President Michael D Higgins, the late taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and former tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Liberties Press is no longer a member of Publishing Ireland, the chairwoman of which Ruth Hegarty said the non-payment of advances and royalties to authors is not commonplace within the industry.

Where money is due “our preference would be to try and resolve it in a spirit of mediation rather than through adversarial procedures,” she said.

Literary agent Jonathan Williams said Liberties Press is unique and that other publishers pay even if they are going through a difficult period.

“I have never encountered this with any other Irish imprint. We are very tolerant if a publisher is in difficulty and are disposed to give them time to set their affairs in order,” he said.

Sales up

“The writers I represent want to speak out about this. Though they expect they will not get the money which is their due by contract, they are anxious to see that no other writers are ever put in that same position with Liberties Press.”

Penguin Ireland managing director Michael McLoughlin described Liberties Press as an “outlier” at a time when book sales are recovering after the recession. Physical book sales are up 20 per cent this year.

He said: “In my 25 years there are very few incidences in which authors have not been paid or royalties have been outstanding. That is notwithstanding the fact that publishers, like any other business, can have ups and downs.” Liberties Press has received State funding over the years from the Arts Council in the Republic and from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. It has received almost €80,000 from the Arts Council since 2011 and £37,528 (€41,654) from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland over the past three years.

Publishers’ reports

Arts Council head of literature Sarah Bannan said publishers have to complete a report form before drawing down their last instalments to confirm that the money was used for the purpose intended.

“To date, I have yet to hear from an artist to say they have not been paid by this publisher [Liberties Press],” she said.

The Arts Council said its Making Great Art Work strategy, which will establish how it will operate over the next decade, includes closer monitoring of payments made to artists.

“There is a body of work to be done in here to ensure that actually happens,” she said.