Who is the Largest Publisher in Scotland?

Review_coverScotland is bloated with failing cultural monopolies argues Peter Burnett:  if over four out of five writers in Scotland earn less than the living wage, then how can this fail to be the fault of the bodies who receive millions each year to promote them?

Before we answer today’s quiz question, I’d like to respond to the recently published Literature and Publishing Sector Review 2015, prepared for Creative Scotland.

The Review was also well reported by Rosemary Goring in a critical article in The Herald.

The Review, as Rosemary Goring confirms, is not easy reading, largely because it seeks to state the obvious in as roundabout way as possible.

What the Review is in short, however, is a quantitative look at Scottish writing and publishing – anything obtainable using quantifiable measurement processes – presenting stuff like How Many Writers Are There in Scotland, and so forth. The paper offers no comment on the quality of Scottish writing, but adopts the default ‘all writing is good’ position taken up by the non-departmental government bodies the Review discusses.

That aside, the Review’s Foreword states that it will form the basis of ‘a broader Arts Strategy’, but at no point does anyone state what that strategy is, or explain why we need a strategy at all – and of course the Review features much consultant-style jargon and amusing chapter titles such as Re-scoping the Sector and The Sector Ecosystem – the sort of thing you’d expect – although I also learned a new acronym – the RFO.

An RFO is a Regularly Funded Organisation, much in the tradition of a NDPB (Non-Departmental Public Body) or a QUANGO (Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation).

RFOs however are not involved in cultural production but in cultural engineering, and their funding is protected while publishers, writers and arts organisations which actually produce stuff, need to keep re-applying for theirs. Publishers, like theatre companies, could not qualify for RFO status, and so they do not automatically get money, unlike these bureaucratic guys – so whereas a publisher could be allowed to go out of business, as has happened in 25 cases in Scotland in the past four years, this could never happen to a QUANGO, or an RFO.

While you can find out about QUANGOs elsewhere (I recommend Mark Thomas) I should tell you that while non-governmental these RFOs (among which are listed The Scottish Book Trust, the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Publishing Scotland and the Scottish Poetry Library) are still carrying out functions of government even though they are placed at two arms’ lengths from the public purse.

Here, it transpires that non-governmental means you are spending state money without being answerable to anybody, so for example, instead of supporting grass roots literature in Scotland you could do anything you want such as organising an egg and spoon race.

Many of the recommendations of the Review argue that the large amount of existing RFOs co-operate with each other in sharing information and it even suggests that they do what they do best, and have more get-togethers, networking sessions and conferences. (See Recommendations 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 31, 38.)

While this all costs money, some of the Review’s Conclusions suggest that writers are poorly paid due to their lack of knowledge of self-promotion (Conclusion 11) and that our country’s scribes are broke due to the defalcations of in particular, book festivals and publishers. (Conclusions 4, 5, 8 etc.)
Recommendation 1 advises that Creative Scotland and the RFOs engage ‘in inclusive terms with writers’. (I wanted to point this out because if they are not already, we really are in trouble!)

Recommendation 6 contains an interesting note that training for literary criticism should somehow be made available and that literary criticism should be ‘supported’. Presumably, if grants are available for writers, then why not for critics?

Recommendation 9 argues that schools should be encouraged to employ Scottish writing as a prominent element in their resources. Also Recommendations 10 and 11.

Recommendation 19 is that booksellers be encouraged to work harder with the RFOs and with libraries ‘with the objective of supporting writers’ and recommendation 25 argues that the RFOs should encourage writers to take up crowdfunding (!)

Some, like Recommendation 26, make no sense whatsoever:

Recommendation 26 – It is recommended that Scottish literature interests review how best to promote and champion the ways in which Scottish literature and publishing positively impacts the literature and other sectors and subjects, and equip them with the tools and arguments to do so.

Recommendation 30 echoes what I think Recommendation 26 may be suggesting, and offers that the RFOs of ‘the literary sector’ may use literature to boost even higher echelons of government. It reads:

It is recommended that Scottish literature institutions demonstrate the value of and uses for Scottish literature to advance the aims and ambitions of other sectors, including the relevant Cabinet Portfolios.

(PERSONAL NOTE: I have come to loathe the term ‘literary sector’ it clearly excludes writers and publishers and is used to refer to the members of the literature bodies based in Edinburgh. And Recommendation 30 shows what I mean. The responsibility of Scotland’s dozen literary RFOs is not to writers and publishers but to the civil service, other arms of government, and even as it states here – the Cabinet.)

Publishing Scotland is identified in the Review’s recommendations, as an organisation which could help develop international markets, and this is discussed in Recommendations 9, 13, 15, 18, 19, 34, 35, and 36.

I think this is positive as Publishing Scotland could be an effective body as it is made up of the people that know more about the business than anybody – the publishers.
Yes – the publishers know more about the book business than writers and they know a lot more about it than the RFOs, and are the sort of people that can identify and develop writing talent.

Certainly if Publishing Scotland are to take on the extra responsibilities the Review recommends, then resources should be reallocated. If this were to happen, we might have to make difficult cuts elsewhere, and for example, consider giving up on the annual RFO Egg and Spoon Race.

In contrast to the idea that Publishing Scotland develop the international market, Recommendation 32 offers that a new body be set up to manage international literature promotion.

By my reading then, the Review makes two conflicting recommendations; the tension here is between giving publishers the opportunity to develop the international market for themselves via Publishing Scotland, and forming a new body of bureaucrats, to do the same.

I do not think that in this matter there is much of a decision to be made: the last thing Edinburgh needs is another literary RFO, especially when this Review makes such a display of highlighting how poorly paid everyone else is.


It is my (unpopular) opinion that The Scottish Book Trust, Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, and the other QUANGOs and RFOs here applauded, are cultural monopolies.

States create monopolies. The state itself maintains a monopoly on violence – that is a defining aspect of the idea of a state – but you will see monopolies in all aspects of statism, including services like health, transport and education.

There are plenty examples but here is a quick one – the British Medical Association – whose aims include maintaining ‘the honour and interests of the medical profession.’ As part of their work, the BMA decides how many doctors there are in the country and how much they will be paid. Hence – monopoly.
As I work in writing and publishing, my immediate concerns are the monopolies on culture enacted by the quangocrats at our various public literature bodies.
And one of the reasons that writers are paid so poorly, I argue, is that the quality of their writing is threatened as more and larger literature bodies perform the function of arbitration.

This means that the RFO class are deciding what is going into print. I argue this because RFOs must justify themselves to politicians and others who delight in saying things like: “We have a thriving literature sector!” There are so many people working for Scotland’s dozen literary RFOs now that we may already be witnessing the evolution of a sizeable culture in which the writing is now certainly being influenced.

I feel that as more governmental weight is applied to literature, the duller it becomes. As such, Scottish books may well sell here, but they will be a hard, hard push to market overseas, or even in England.

As if to back this up, the Review emphasises that 81% of Scotland’s 2,300 writers earn less than National Minimum Wage, but the Review itself is a page by page by page reminder that there are group of people that are doing very well out of Scottish books – these are the people that work for the mushrooming semi-public bodies which are engaged in ‘promoting literature’.

Begging this question: Why does Creative Scotland argue that Scotland’s writers are failing in promotional terms, while the various egg and spoon racers employed in Edinburgh’s RFOs are let off the hook?

My argument is this – if over four out of five writers in Scotland earn less than the living wage, then how can this fail to be the fault of the bodies who receive millions each year to promote them?

Of all the publishers I know, none have been able to survive without public funding, private backing from sponsors, or by in some cases having second jobs.
Yet Scottish publishers are desperate to publicise their books in London (which would be a good start) and further afield, especially when you consider that within living memory and up until the 1970s, Scottish publishers had little difficulty in selling books in London, New York, Hong Kong and beyond.
How is it then that in terms of distribution we have as a literary nation regressed?

Cherchez la QUANGO!


QUANGOs are liked and loathed in equal measure by both the left and the right, but for different reasons. Their popularity in the UK is down to Margaret Thatcher’s reading of economist Friedrich Hayek, and many QUANGOs were set up in the 1980s and 90s as a result of her government’s policies.
Margaret Thatcher believed that such Non-Departmental Public Bodies could reduce the budget deficit by reducing the size of the public sector. On this point she was attacked by New Labour (with Gordon Brown famously calling for a ‘bonfire of the QUANGOs’), but as it turns out both Labour and the SNP, as all politicians inevitably must, found that they like the QUANGOs after all.

When I was growing up our family worked one of thousands of small livestock or agricultural holdings in Scotland that made a basic profit. Gradually this process changed as we hoved into the Thatcher era, and large-scale farming took over, and my family were offered subsidies to stop working as large-scale price fixing and ‘quotas’ were introduced.

Those small farms are gone now and market monopolies dominate. In farming, as in literature, subsidy is the norm, and while our family farm closed years ago, farmers now deal with more QUANGOs and other bodies than they can count ó maybe even more than writers do.
Just as agricultural metaphors are perennially useful in literature and poetry, so they may be in economics. Either way, the emergence of QUANGOs in both farming and letters has led to reduced wages for producers (farmers, writers and publishers), and a reduction in quality and integrity of production as monopolies enforce a product for mass consumption. The more state involvement there is in writing and publishing, the lesser the quality will be.


In reading this recent Literature and Publishing Sector Review, a friend in Aberdeenshire, took the time to count how many times each city and other literary town is mentioned, and here are his findings:

Edinburgh: 78
Glasgow: 46
Dundee: 4
Aberdeen: 2
Inverness: 2
Stirling: 1
Perth: 0
Stornoway: 0
Lerwick: 0
Kirkwall: 0

The issue is not so much that the consultants and other undesirables involved in writing the Review confuse the word ‘Edinburgh’ with the word ‘Scotland’ so much as the fact that in the Review they are reflecting themselves. By talking about Edinburgh, the consultants are exposing a prejudice.

The Scottish Book Trust, The UNESCO City of Literature, Creative Scotland and the other weird government-funded arms-length bodies for whom this report are bread and butter are nearly all based in Edinburgh, and in this much their world-view is revealed.
But Edinburgh isn’t Scotland and in contrast to this lack of geographic engagement, the cringeworthy phrase ‘literary ecosystem’ – obviously much loved by these types – appears seven times in the Review!

These are examples of idees fixes – everyone employs them. This article that you are reading now, for comparison, contains the word monopoly ten times, and the word QUANGO, or its variants, twenty five times. It’s just a shorthand to find out what is really on peoples’ minds…


And now on to today’s quiz question: WHO IS THE LARGEST PUBLISHER IN SCOTLAND?
Maybe when you saw this question you were tempted to say something insane like ‘Canongate Books’, ‘Harper Collins’ or ‘Birlinn’, but you would be wrong – because the largest publisher in Scotland is by far and a long way amazon.com – and this is thanks to the furtherance of another monopoly, which not only granted Amazon £10.6 million of public money, but offers them tax breaks.

Regardless of your position on this, it is certainly a monopoly, and one which effects book publishing and distribution in Scotland. There is a decent enough discussion of the pros and cons of the Amazon investment here on Scottish Economy Watch (if you read the comment threads, also), but my own problem with it is the central planning of business.

It ís hard to say how many ebooks Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) publish from Scotland in a year, but it is without doubt in the thousands.
In fact, KDP publishes 20,000 ebooks a week, and Amazon take between 35% and 70% of the revenue for every sale. This fee includes conversion, and access to their store, used by millions of ebook buyers.

In the meantime there are many reasons why the Amazon money was not invested in other domestic distribution and publishing infrastructure, but one is that under the theory of economic central planning, money is simply dumped into the economy on the basis of a deal that does not involve public input.
If Amazon already publish thousands of Scottish books, what’s to stop them hiring editors? They already manage marketing and distribution networks and have put several of our publishers out of business without even editing a single work they’ve published.

Meanwhile, the Literature and Publishing Sector Review 2015 notes that since 2010, 25 Scottish publishers have quit trading, and whereas there were about 1400 people working in Scottish publishing in 2010, there are now just 1000.

Certainly this downward trend (loss of 100 publishing jobs per year on your watch Creative Scotland, SBT et al) will persist if resources are fed to RFOs and QUANGOs and if Amazon’s growth continues. With regards Amazon, The Literature and Publishing Sector Review 2015 plays it cool and above all, works hard not to upset the giant.

While the Review agrees in Part 5.1 that Amazon have a dominance over sales, distribution, and even publishing, Part 5.2 refers to the fact that so many publishers have gone out of business in recent years as ‘consolidation in publishing’.

I have known several of the publishers that have stopped trading in recent years, and I have never heard them describe the process as ‘consolidation’.


While RFOs and groups like Creative Scotland have every right to defend their livelihoods, it is still the case that nowhere in their consultants’ Review does it say that they should take a look at themselves.

Instead the Review (and its press release) says that tourism bodies, education bodies, book festivals, publishers, bookshops and even the media should be doing more to help writers.

I am a publisher and writer in Scotland, so what has the Literature and Publishing Sector Review 2015 have to offer me?
Not a lot, but as I have said it serves a different purpose. It demonstrates that in identifying a problem, non-governmental bodies default to the suggestion that they need to create a new non-governmental body to solve it. I would say, in the wise words of Ian Dury: what a waste.

While I appreciate that we can’t simply give money out to anyone who happens to be a friend of the Commissariat, there must be a better way of getting money to publishers, without it being reduced by an order of magnitude by so many public bodies. What goes in as large amounts of millions, comes out to publishers as small amounts of thousands, once it has been tenderised, laundered and squandered by the egg-and-spoon-racing RFOs.

I take the view as first expressed by Adam Smith that prosperous businesses arise not from the actions of governments but through the voluntary actions of buyers and sellers in the marketplace. No one person or group dictates what the supply or demand of a particular thing should be, and this applies as equally to culture (in my view) as it does to bread.

And I am also a reader, and nothing in the Review promises to increase the quality of Scottish books, but only guarantees more ëliterary sectorí style of activity, such as best exemplified recently by the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust Annual Egg and Spoon Race.
This egg and spoonery was great fun for the millenial class employed in Edina’s fair RFOs, but tell me, how does this promote – or improve the quality of Scottish literature?

Perhaps the following clip raises questions of:

  • Leadership
  • Organisation and
  • Value for Money




See the CREATIVE SCOTLAND Literature and Publishing Review 2015:


The consultants and Steering Group members responsibe for the Review are NORDICITY, Drew Wylie, Jan Rutherford, Robyn Marsack and Tom Pow.

Mark Thomas investigates QUANGOs:


Further Reading:

An article by Martin Williams in The Herald Scotland, January 2014, about benefits and other expenses paid to resigning QUANGO heads at Creative Scotland, amid further accusations of money-squandering at what Don Paterson calls the ‘dysfunctional ant-heap’.

Outcry as quango heads forced to resign receive huge pay-outs

Comments (33)

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  1. JBS says:

    ëliterary ecosystemí ó, ó, ó, ó, ó, ó, ó, ók.

    ënon-governmentalí? I should cócó.

    I take it we are all great fans of Pedro Carolinho:


  2. Steve says:

    I can see your resentment for Amazon putting publishers out of business, and the poor living Scottish writers make.

    I can also see that paying the RFOs doesn’t immediately translate into solving those problems. No amount of funding Scottish writers or publishers directly would, in my opinion, solve them either. Are you proposing that Creative Scotland simply stop paying the Scottish Book Trust to promote authors around Scotland, or the Poetry Library to promote local poets, and instead just send a small cheque to every Scottish writer and publisher? How would they know which ones are the good ones and deserve money? Doesn’t the market deserve a say in that?

    I don’t see the connection between your resentment for Amazon eating up Scottish Publishing, and your resentment for the RFOs. You’ve failed to make that connection clear, other than you think that RFOs having occasional shoestring-funded get-togethers somehow diverts money that should be put into your pocket.

    As far as I can tell, the RFOs are basically publicity agencies. They hold contests and promote the winners, pay authors to give self-promotion talks, bring authors round to schools to indoctrinate kids early, help make sure that books find their way into the hands of children. These are worthy goals and can only help Scottish writers.

    Why not examine the weak links in the chain?
    1. Amazon is given tax breaks to chew up local publishers.
    2. Scottish writing is promoted mostly within Scotland, a much smaller market than the entire Anglosphere. This may be a reason for the decline in Scottish writing sales outside Scotland. It should be more widely promoted, but of course a small RFO won’t have the budget for that. Who do you think should do it?

  3. Jim Boyd says:

    Interesting article that covers a lot of things.

    1) Amazon – which is a conundrum shared the world over. The transnational nature of internet sales, tax and finance vs static ‘real publishers’ and the constraints of geography.
    2) The role of government (quango’s) and the private/ commercial aspects of book sales/ government driven culture in general.
    3) The specifics of Scotland in relation to the above.

    Don’t profess to have any definitive answers but there are a few tensions that can be highlighted.
    One of the reasons Scotland and Scottish publishing has retrenched is part commercial and part it’s own inwardness. It is to state the obvious that in order to sell books you need a market place wide and diverse enough in which books can be sold to a minimum scale. This means major cities for multiple reasons; London, NY, HK, Toronto etc – like it or not this is where books sell (even niche books can sell enough to maintain a profit.)

    And here lies a confusion. Increasingly Scottish literature/ culture has become the instrument of politics – the method by which Scotland defines itself as a nation in opposition to England and elsewhere as opposed to a free and open space where the universal (via Scotland) will inevitably out. Cultural nationalism for want of a better term has led Scottish culture down a cul de sac separate from the greater streams of European and world literature. (Joyce saw himself first and foremost as a European writer, not an Irish one).

    This isn’t to say literature shouldn’t be Scottish or about Scotland or even about Scottish nationalism (many of the most successful and best selling authors in the world are Scots writing about Scotland – Rankin, Macall Smith, Stuart Macbride…), but that it ought to be separate from the overt politics and processes of nationhood and nationalism. One of the problems Scottish publishers seem to have (IMO caveat) is that they see themselves as the arbiters of a ‘national culture’ rather than just picking the best books to publish. – then they wonder why ‘elsewhere isn’t overly interested in their output’. Why should people in London buy James Kelman’s books for example when all he does is complain about how the English don’t understand Scottish (Glaswegian) culture? It militantly defends ‘our culture’ against the other, then paradoxically expects the ‘other’ to indulge, understand and commercially support them.

    When Scottish writers and publishers cease being so self consciously Scottish, they may find that the wider world market grow to appreciate the universal through a Scottish lens. It’s a horse and cart thing.

    1. Steve says:

      Agreed, and I think that’s a good partial reply to my second point. Scottish writing isn’t just for Scottish readers, which is frankly just too small a market. The more inward we turn, the smaller the market gets.

    2. Douglas says:

      Jim Boyd says “Why should people in London buy James Kelman’s books for example when all he does is complain about how the English don’t understand Scottish (Glaswegian) culture? It militantly defends ‘our culture’ against the other, then paradoxically expects the ‘other’ to indulge, understand and commercially support them.”

      What is this garbage? Can you quote me Kelman in such a sense? He lives in Glasgow. He writes about Glasgow. No big mystery there. Trocchi lived in New York and wrote about New York. Stevenson lived in the Samoan Islands and wrote about the Samoan Islands too….

      And you talk about London, London, London. Why not Madrid or Paris? “How Late It Was, How Late” was recently published here in Spain. Does anybody who works at Creative Scotland even know that happened?

      Scotland has zero official international representation of its arts, and spends 90 a million year on culture…parochial, provincial, BRITISH….

      …how many more Scottish books could be sold abroad if we had some representation in situ in Madrid, Paris, New York and Berlin? Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions over years…..

  4. Douglas says:

    Well, I agree with a lot of this Peter, and also with what Rosemary Goring said about the language of the report, but where is the surprise there?. It is a very, very long report and not much there you didn’t suspect already, eg writers are poor? Big surprise, they always have been save for a few exceptional cases in a few exceptional moments in history.

    In any case, I think the SNP’s culture policy lacks an overall and coherent vision, and CS is still redolent of the New Labour project it originally was. If you look at what they do in other European countries, it’s something very different, it is joined up thinking: so the Germans have the Goethe institute, and the Spanish have the Cervantes Institute, and the Catalans have the Institut Ramón Llull, and the Portuguese have the Camoes Institute – all named after the national poets and writers of course, not some bullshit marketing term like “Creative Scotland”….cringe worthy.

    These are national centres to promote the national culture abroad. They cover all of the national arts in general, and they offer languages classes too..they exist to further their respective national cultures in the world, unashamedly so…. not to “unlock ambition” and promote fair access to the arts, and “develop audiences”…these are meaningless terms in a society which is based on a social class divide such as Scotland…what does it mean to “develop an audience?” Who comes up with these terms?

    The goal of The Scottish Book Trust is, by the definition on its website, to promote literacy and reading in Scotland….well, what does that have to do with Scottish writing per se? The schools are there to promote literacy, the public libraries to promote reading….it’s mixing apples with pears.

    You need a complete reconfiguration of the way the Scottish Govt thinks about culture, and the duties of a government and the State to Scottish culture…

    ….if the Catalans can have the Institut Ramon Llull in numerous countries all around the world as part of Spain, why can’t we have the Burns Institute, or the Dunbar Institute, or whatever you want to call it?

  5. Douglas says:

    What I am trying to say is that a new body to promote Scottish literature is not enough. You need an integrated, coherent organization which promotes the arts of Scotland abroad, including literature obviously.

    Here is the web page of the Institut Ramón Llull – in English. They have centres in Paris, New York, London, and Berlin. What do we have in those places after 8 years of an SNP government?


  6. Douglas says:

    No, I’m forgetting….duh! We have Tartan Day in New York…a gimmicky, kitsch day to sell Scottish produce to America.

    That says it all….

    Nobody I can see in the SNP takes Scottish culture seriously…

  7. Douglas says:

    This is what the Mission Statement of a national arts body should sound like, not the complete bullshit marketing language of Creative Scotland or The Scottih Book Trust:

    “The Institut Ramon Llull is a public body founded with the purpose of promoting Catalan language studies at universities abroad, the translation of literature and thought written in Catalan, and Catalan cultural production in other areas like theatre, film, circus, dance, music, the visual arts, design and architecture.

    To this end, the Institut Ramon Llull signs agreements with foreign universities in order to promote Catalan teaching in them and it coordinates and offers support to over 140 centres all over the world where Catalan studies are present. At the same time, the Institut Ramon Llull supports international Catalanist associations and foments specialist studies and linguistic research at prestigious universities. As the official body certifying linguistic competence in Catalan abroad, it organizes examinations and awards certificates for the different levels, in accordance with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

    In another sphere of action, the Institut Ramon Llull promotes the translation of works of literature and thought written in Catalan, helping the publishers in other languages that publish them and the translators that perform the task, who are given continuous training and recognition for their work. Dialogue and exchange between Catalan essayists and language researchers and their interlocutors in other languages is facilitated, while the projection of thought and culture journals written in Catalan is encouraged and exchange with those of other countries is promoted.

    Finally, the Institut Ramon Llull undertakes to disseminate Catalan literature as a whole at book fairs, and to ensure that artists from Catalonia are present in outstanding programmes of international contemporary creation, through agreements with institutions, international shows, art centres and museums. It works to ensure that Catalan culture is present at world famous festivals and fairs, and takes part in key cultural events in different areas of creation in strategic cities. And it also promotes exchanges between the local and international creative sectors with visits by foreign curators, critics, programmers, publishers and agents, attending festivals, exhibitions, premieres, concerts or conferences in Catalonia.”

  8. Jamie Blairford says:

    Anyone who has attempted to launch their written thoughts on a wee paper boat into the Amazon will know how hard it is to be seen on that vast global waterway, although there can be a momentary frisson when your wee boat is an attack on the corporate imperialism that the company represents, before it sinks unseen, the boat that is. Surely it is not beyond the wit of a country that has produced some great publishing houses to set up its own e-book publishing and download site, concentrating at first on a Scottish audience and writing specifically aimed at it before moving out to the great mass of Scots in exile. It cannot be too difficult to set up a ‘Spey’ or a ‘Tay’ Digital publishing site. There are a few attempts around but no real core marketplace. Perhaps one of these well funded quangos could do this, or do we have to crowd-fund it?

  9. Gordie says:

    It’s a subject that crops up every now and again on a semi regular basis with my pals back home who started up an organisation for the local kids in the area called the Highland Perthshire sports trust. How do you get the money out into Kids facilities, coaching, writers, theatres, film makers etc and cut out the admin spending and hassle in between as possible?

    1. Ray Bell says:

      Crowd funding?

  10. Craig P says:

    From a writer’s perspective, the 35%-70% cut Amazon takes leaves 30-65% for the writer – a lot more than the 10% traditionally offered by a publisher. Obviously a publisher does far more than Amazon in selection, editing, writer development, and promotion.

    For me, so long as you have the raw materials of willing artists, the two main aims of any public creative body should be to improve the quality of the overall output and in identifying and vigorously marketing the best of it. This is not far off the kind of aims that public sports bodies have, except that sporting bodies tend to neglect the grassroots even more than arts bodies do.

    1. Ray Bell says:

      My hunch is the 30% for the writer is temporary and designed to transfer influence to Amazon.

      When they corner the market even more that will almost certainly decrease.

  11. George Gunn says:

    Peter Burnett has hit the nail squarely on the head. This is a mad world. I am fed up being told that I have to be self sustaining for people who work for organisations funded by the government and who would have to look up “self sustaining” in the dictionary. His analogy with farming is also spot on. I wish I had read this some days ago but I have been busy… writing. Foolish man that I am

  12. Colin Salter says:

    It is typical of iconoclasts that they are unhappy with the status quo and don’t want anyone else to be happy with it. The egg and spoon race on which the author riffs was a harmless bit of fun during the last Edinburgh Literary Salon before the summer break. It was conceived over beer by two Edinburgh authors (me and another), not by the UNESCO City of Literature staff, and the participants were underpaid Edinburgh authors letting their hair down for once. It was fun. It was harmless. I am grateful to the City of Lit staff for joining in the spirit of the race. The eggs were donated, not bought with RFO funds No authors or publishers were harmed in the running of the race, although seven eggs were.

    I am not qualified to comment in depth on the rest of the article. But I think Creative Scotland has been bad news for Scottish Theatre, in which I worked for ten years when the Scottish Arts Council enabled companies I worked for such as 7:84, Wildcat and Communicado to go about their business in a way which I gather is impossible today. Not having worked in the literary sector (as a writer) until recently, I cannot make similar comparisons there.

    The Edinburgh Book Festival and UNESCO Edinburgh City of Literature are explicitly Edinburgh bodies, and could hardly be split up in monopoly terms. Other Scottish book festivals are available. Other Scottish cities have other cultural designations. Glasgow is a City of Music for example. Scotland is a small country and can probably not afford the luxury of may regionally divided bodies. National bodies certainly do have a duty to represent the whole country, and it does no harm for them to get out of Edinburgh. I was in Coigach recently when the Scottish Cabinet met in Ullapool. Perhaps it is true that the so-called cultural monopolies could spend more time in other parts of Scotland and less representing Scotland or Edinburgh overseas. But Edinburgh bodies are created to promote Edinburgh: no point in railing against that.

    In those matters I am as I say not qualified to comment in depth. However I do know about the egg and spoon race and I think your use of it in this article was mean-spirited and ill-informed. Now, back to my attic and my absinthe …

    1. Ray Bell says:

      “The egg and spoon race on which the author riffs was a harmless bit of fun during the last Edinburgh Literary Salon”

      I think Jim Slaven summed up the situation nicely in his comment on Twitter -> “Not many faces from the scheme in this clip…. “

      1. Colin Salter says:

        The argument for cultural decentralisation is powerfully made, although it does not take account of Scotland’s very uneven population distribution. But once again let me say that the egg and spoon race around which Peter Burnett constructs a cheap, mean-spirited and ill-informed running gag, epitomises nothing but a bunch of writers having some fun on a summer’s evening. I have no idea of the socio-economic background or foreground of the participants, or (despite 15 years working in community arts) what a face from the schemes looks like. But Jim Slaven’s remark, if true as reported, smacks ofpatronising inverted snobbery. The race was a bit of fun conceived by writers, not by Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature, whom we asked to facilitate it; the eggs were not paid for from EUCL funds but sponsored by a third party. Perhaps critics object to an egg and spoon race per se on the grounds that it smacks of English village fetes. Since running in the EUCL event I have had the great pleasure of watching six egg and spoon races run by different age groups from Under 12s to Adults of both genders at the Lochinver Highland Games. Critics might have been heard to note that there weren’t many faces from the schemes there either. Lighten up!

        1. JBS says:

          “The race was a bit of fun conceived by writers, not by Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature, whom we asked to facilitate it…”

          Yeah, ok. But how much did it cost to organise it? And where did the money come from?

          1. Lockhart Falkland says:

            “The race was a bit of fun of fun conceived by writers…” Sorry Colin, I’ve never heard of you. Perhaps your chums at UNESCO could do a wee bit more to promote the likes of yourself and your fellow egg and spooners in between gallivanting around the globe on ‘fact-finding’ missions . Also, I find the flagrant destruction of seven eggs in a time of austerity and foodbanks to be nothing short of distasteful.

          2. Colin Salter says:

            Lockhart Falkland, editor of the One O’Clock Gun, aka Craig Gibson. Google me. Or is “fact-finding” not your thing?
            I write to commission, not for fame. Neither EUCL nor I have any interest in EUCL promoting me or my work. I cannot speak for my fellow egg-and-spooners. I am a regular attender at the Edinburgh Literary Salon, nothing more. Your use of the word “chums” suggests otherwise. I am not an apologist for EUCL, although I am grateful for their work in promoting the city’s literary heritage at home and overseas. I am not part of that heritage.
            Can we all now please move on and discuss the serious content of Mr Burnett’s article, not his ill-judged and mean-spirited attack on some frivolous fun organised by a few writers?

          3. Colin Salter says:

            OMG! Are you serious? Do you hear yourself? Are you a Daily Mail reporter? “Tax payers’ millions squandered on frivolous egg & spoon race.” OK, here goes:
            The race was proposed and discussed at regular informal literary networking events. NO EXTRA STAFF HOURS OR COSTS INCURRED. Notice of the race was included in a regular email announcing a regular informal literary networking event. NO EXTRA STAFF HOURS OR COSTS INCURRED. The race took place during a regular informal literary networking event. NO EXTRA STAFF HOURS OR COSTS INCURRED. The eggs and spoons were donated by a sponsor. NO COSTS TO EUCL INCURRED.
            Now, a sheet of paper WAS used at the networking event for people to sign up for the race, and during the event a chalk line was drawn on the pavement to mark the start and finish of the race. HERE YOU’VE GOT ME. I confess I cannot account for the source of that one sheet of paper, nor for the pen or pens whose ink was used to write the nineteen names of the participants on the one sheet of paper. The source of the chalk also baffles me.
            Well done. These are the resources, whose ever they were, which were squandered on this welcome distraction from the solitary life of most of us writers. One sheet of someone’s paper. Some ink from some pens (one of them mine). Some pavement chalk. Our lives were briefly enriched by it. That of its critics was, it seems, disproportionately impoverished.

          4. JBS says:

            Colin Salter:


            “That of its critics was, it seems, disproportionately impoverished.”

            Nah, you’re wrong about that 😀 .

        2. Ray Bell says:

          I’m sure you think Jim Slaven is a snob, but my personal experience is that many of the people at your salons are a lot posher than I am. Was speaking to Charles Stross the other day – interesting pleasant guy but not like your main demographic. Some of it works some of it doesn’t.

          The Wash might be a central location but a lot of us find it a bit on the pricey side too. Then again at least it isn’t the Opal Lounge or All Bar Me.

          I don’t think you are doing much for literature in the outer suburbs of this city whether schemes like Muirhouse & Niddrie or even residential areas like South Gyle & Corstorphine.

          1. Colin Salter says:

            As I’ve said in another reply, I have no connection with the Salon other than as a regular attender. It’s not “my” Salon, and all I am doing for literature in the city is helming a non fiction writers’ group called Stranger Than Fiction which is open to all. We meet, you’ll be sorry to hear, in the Wash which I agree is pricey, but usefully central for those of our attenders who travel in from out of the city. I don’t know Jim Slaven at all, and can only comment on his reported remark. I don’t know you either, Ray, but hope we have met at the Salon before now. I meet and chat to Charlie Stross there fairly regularly. He was the first person I met when I first went along, a friendly guy indeed. Craig, I expect we have also met at the Salon. (But I only know you because out of curiosity I googled you! I only suggested you google me because you did not know me. You are not missing much if you didn’t, except a piture of me on my website which you can compare with the runners in the egg & spoon race video.)
            Hope to meet you all again for similarly lively debates at the Salon in the future. Perhaps you could encourage others to come along and make the attendance more representative of the city’s schemes and suburbs, and perhaps you could join in the fun at the next egg & spoon race.

  13. Ray Bell says:

    Have only skim read this but yes there is a MASSIVE problem in Scotland epitomised by yon egg an spuin keich.

    WH Smith & the English supermarkets are probably the most visited non-virtual retailers yet the representation of Scottish titles seems to be a) tourist crap, b) tacky football titles, c) crime and d) foodie guides.

    In the arts bean counters are our biggest enemy – their benefit is not always a financial one.

    Will give this a better look by and by.

  14. Lockhart Falkland says:

    My Dear Salter,

    You appear to know me it seems. Funny, I only use the Falkland moniker for the purpose of flyting these days. Touche, Sir! The ancient and noble art is very much back in vogue I might add.

    I don’t get paid for ‘fact finding’ and I don’t really see the point of searching for you on Google. If you’ve been attending the Salon anywhere near the length of time I have, I’ll know your face for sure. We have maybe even conversed?

    Anyway,”a bunch of writers having some fun on a summer’s evening,” adequately sums up all of us who took part in the filming of the now infamous egg and spoon race. Oh how we laughed and continue to do so. Do you realise how daft ye all looked? Incidentally, which one are ye? Is that you cleaning up the spillage on George Buchanan’s memorial with Ali at the end of the show?

    Y’rs in Sport,

    CRAIG GIBSON (AKA Lockhart Falkland)

    1. Ray Bell says:

      Is docha nach eil Maighstir Saltair eolach air dualchas aoir na h-Alba, ach ‘s coma leamsa! – Mibbes Meester Salter isna up wi oor auld leetary tradition o flyting, bit nae bother!

      1. Colin Salter says:

        Soilleir chan eil fhios agam. (I think.) Obviously not, which means it’s not really flyting, is it! A duel of any kind requires two participants, otherwise it’s just an ambush. However, touche and well played. Siablev dvoinje, as I think the Cossacks say.

  15. Gregor V says:

    Sorry but you are wrong

    In one paragraph you say

    “There are plenty examples but here is a quick one – the British Medical Association – whose aims include maintaining ‘the honour and interests of the medical profession.’ As part of their work, the BMA decides how many doctors there are in the country and how much they will be paid. Hence – monopoly.”

    The BMA is a trade union for the majority of doctors. It has no power to decide the number of doctors and is not directly responsible for licencing doctors – that is under the remit of the General Medical Council. Unfortunately it cannot determine how much doctors get paid. Doctors’ pay rates are recommended by the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ remuneration (DDRB) which the government can then decided to accept or reject. The BMA does give evidence to the DDRB but certainly in the medical profession the feeling is the DDRB pays more attention to the government’s evidence than the BMA’s. It is not even a monopoly trade union – another the Medical Practitioners’ Union is part of Unite, although it does have far fewer members than the BMA.

    The fact that the BMA is a trade union rather than a monopoly organisation for the control of the medical profession could have been checked with a quick read of its website. This is the only part of the article that I really know anything about. However such an ignorant statement as this makes me doubt the accuracy of any of the other statements or conclusions above.

    COI – Member of the BMA

    1. Ray Bell says:

      “However such an ignorant statement as this makes me doubt the accuracy of any of the other statements or conclusions above.”

      Oh, the egg and spoon race stuff is completely true. I witnessed it first hand.

  16. By Gavin Falconer One of the results of the independence referendum is that it makes all of us, whether we like it or not, gradualists. This weeks Hysterical Neighbours Prize is a three-way draw.

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