Friday, 22 May 2009

More Salt

I have been following with interest the many discussions and blogs about Salt Publishing's Just One Book campaign, which started (I think) yesterday on Facebook.

The announcement came from Chris Hamilton-Emery that Salt are struggling financially to stay afloat, with the current economic crisis and the end of their Arts Council funding.

Their Just One Book campaign urges people to buy one book, right now, so that Salt can survive this crisis. The news has been blogged, twittered and shared on most networking sites.

Many people have pledged support by buying book/s, spreading the news, and leaving comments about how much they value Salt as a cutting edge publisher of poetry and short stories. I read on the Bookseller website that the campaign has resulted in 400 sales in the first 24 hours of the campaign, which Chris Hamilton-Emery described as an 'astonishing and heart-warming' response.

I hope the campaign helps them navigate through their current financial crisis, although I do worry about whether a £55,000 hole in their budget can possibly be plugged by internet sales.

I have read one or two negative comments about the campaign. The main critic being writer and publisher,Susan Hill commenting on Paul Magrs facebook page. She says,"Their books sell about 12 copies each, heavily subsidised by the ACE which is absolutely ludicrous. If only 12 people want to buy their books they shouldn`t be publishing.. and they certainly should not get public subsidy."

Her comments felt a little harsh. Salt have been very open over the past year about sales. They have admitted that some books sell little, and perhaps there are a number of Salt books that have sold only 12 copies, but I also know there are others that have sold many copies. Tania Hershman's brilliant The White Road and Other Stories, is one example, currently at number 4 in the UK short story sales chart on Amazon. Their books have won awards, been shortlisted for prizes and have had excellent mainstream press.

Personally, I love Salt books and have been reading them for the past few years. I can recommend many of their short story collections:

My favourite Salt collection of poetry is Angela Readman's Strip

but there are many many others that I could recommend.

I do feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of publishers asking for us to buy books to save their presses, or to donate money. Although it is happening more and more often these days with small presses being threatened by funding cuts and the downturn in the market. I want to hear that Salt and other small presses are adapting to these changes in the market by their approaches to publishing, maybe taking a few less risks for a while so they can focus on their current titles to ensure that these sales increase, and perhaps looking for other funding streams/sources of income to subsidise their budget deficits. We all have to thrift more at the moment, and there is just not enough money for the reading public to buy as many books as they would like.

I want to see Salt succeed. They are one of the most exciting independent press in the UK right now, due to the risks they take on talented writers that might not get published in the mainstream, their commitment to poetry and the short story, and the high quality of their book production.

My request is that if you are thinking of buying a book then please consider Salt, if you've never heard of them have a browse of their site, if you have a birthday coming up, ask a friend to buy you a brilliant short story or poetry collection, or buy presents for others from their site, not just now, but also in the future.

And not just Salt, but one of the many small press publishers that work hard to produce innovative, edgy writing from new writers, and carve a small niche for themselves in poetry and short story publishing because there are so many out there at risk right now.


Megan said...

Yes, I'm in total agreement - Salt should be saved!
But really interesting post Annie, thank you for widening the issue

(Also thank you for my postcard - I LOVE it)


Kalu's Column said...

very thoughtful. hard times for all small presses, I guess, and perhaps small press's distributors?

SueG said...

There have been a flurry of blogs about Salt and I have done my part by buying some books. But as an author published by a different, though equally small press, I want to say that your blog is the most coherent and well-expressed statement on the situation that I have read. Thanks!

Nik Perring said...

Well said, Annie.

To lose Salt would be a terrible thing. I'm sure they're not the only publishing house who have a few titles that don't sell particularly well but unlike many publishers they take a risk on things they love and on forms other publishers avoid.

And aren't ALL publishers asking people to buy their books? Some do it by advertising (as someone on a writers' site pointed out) - but that's not all that different, surely.



Fiona Robyn said...

Good post, Annie.

Tania Hershman said...

Annie, thanks so much for this, we all thank you. And you make an excellent point about adapting to the current market and perhaps taking fewer risks or changing strategy, food for thought for small publishers everywhere.

Rachel Fox said...

There have been a lot of save Salt posts in the past week but this one (as Sue says above) is the best I have read so far. It's not a simple matter after all - there are a lot of businesses (and publishers...and charities...) right now who need the public's financial support in hard times. I did go and buy a book in response to all the publicity (one I had been thinking of for a while) but I did also think other have they managed to make any money ever when they publish SO many books (particularly so many poetry books) and when so many of those books have been hardback etc. etc. But then on the other hand I admire their ambition and the variety of work they publish and they seem a bit crazy so I am happy to be part of the trying-to-save-them movement too. I have to say that I would have been more interested in buying books of theirs in the past if they had used recycled materials in their production though (I am not aware that they do - I apologise if this is incorrect). To me this seems an obvious positive thing that a publisher can do and I don't understand why more small presses don't do it. I did it with my own book and it was not expensive and the book is still a good quality product (if we must see it in those terms...which a business must...I am not a business...phew...).

p.s. I love the book 'Strip' too.


Sarah Hymas said...

What's interesting about Salt's Save Us campaign is how it seems to be in tandem with their initial marketing strategy - relying on their huge list of writers for momentum and sales.

And certainly they have a massive amount of support, but can this current campaign actually work as part of a longer term strategy?

Their deal with the Arts Council was a three year upfront payment and then they'd go it alone. Can poetry go it alone? Faber's poetry list is supported by income from Cats. Picador's by Pan Macmillan novel list.

Michelle said...

Great post, Annie.

And thank you so much for my postcard. I received it yesterday! x

Rob said...

I'm a Salt poet. Your article seems very fair and balanced, Annie, so thanks. From what I gather, Salt need to sell 310 copies of a title just to break even. It's a tough world for small publishers. The figure Susan Hill quotes is ridiculous though. Most Salt books do sell a few hundred copies which, for poetry and short story collections, isn't bad.

Michelle said...

I ordered Tamar Yoseloff's Fetch on Thursday, Annie. I let you know what it's like.

Mariacristina said...

Since I've met up with Michelle McGrane, Jo Hemmant, and now you, Annie, I'm a big fan of Salt. I've bought several titles now. They even give many US writers a break. We all need to pitch in, right?

Elizabeth Baines said...

Good post, Annie.
Re Susan Hill's comments: it seemed that she was going by Nielsen BookScan to which she subscribes, but as far as I know this is just a point-of-sale measure of bookshop sales, and does not include either online sales (Amazon etc) or direct mail sales which is a large part of the business of small publishers.