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06 December 2019

45 Years of Publishing Scotland

Online Exhibition

Alice Piotrowska, the author of this page, has also produced an online exhibition Forty-five Years of Publishing Scotland. It explores some of the major projects, events and collaborative activities developed by Publishing Scotland to support the book industry over the last few decades. The project was funded by the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities (SGSAH).

 

Early Years

This year Publishing Scotland celebrates forty-five years of supporting Scottish publishers. The organisation was established in 1974 as the Scottish General Publishers Association (later simply the Scottish Publishers Association, or SPA, then Publishing Scotland from 2007 onwards), a venture that grew "from necessity, energy and conviction, ambition and the wish to fan what then looked like the dying embers of a once-important industry in Scotland" - as described by Lorraine Fannin, the CEO of the organisation from 1987 to 2008. Although it was a much smaller operation in its early years, the mission of Publishing Scotland has remained the same since its inception: to be a voice for Scottish publishers and to provide for their specific needs.

With this energy and ambition as the driving forces, independent Scottish publishing was experiencing a revival in the 1970s. It was a period of cultural optimism, fuelled by the growing possibility of Scottish independence and the implementation of new cultural initiatives. At the time when traditional family-owned publishers were being swallowed by multimedia corporations, new indie houses and radical magazines were emerging despite it all, paving the way for Scottish publishing and writing. Launched in 1970, Chapman became a revolutionary channel for Scottish poetry, criticism, and short fiction; Canongate Books, now one of the leading Scottish independents, was established in 1973; Mainstream Publishing launched in 1978 and went on to publish some of the best Scottish fiction and non-fiction until its closure in 2013. Initially some of these ventures seemed fuelled by pure enthusiasm, using the most inventive ways of getting funds for book production (including a home improvement loan in Mainstream's case). But although thin on the ground, Scottish publishing was growing - and establishing an organisation to support and represent it, separate from the UK-wide Publishers Association, seemed like a natural extension of the process.

The SPA offered a venue for Scottish publishers to meet and exchange ideas, building a thriving tight-knit community where people could network and support each other. (Even though, in its early years, the physical venue was quite precarious: according to many, the rickety stairs leading up to the South West Thistle Street Lane attic office would make Health and Safety faint.) To date, many prominent Scottish publishers have chaired the organisation, including Stephanie Wolfe Murray of Canongate, Richard Drew of Richard Drew Publishing, and Timothy Wright of Edinburgh University Press.

 

Growing with the Market

Throughout the years, Publishing Scotland has grown alongside its members, responding to the needs of Scottish publishers. A case in point, and a spectacular one at that - involving jumping into the car and rushing over to a distribution warehouse in the north of Glasgow to rescue stock - was setting up a book distribution centre in 1995 over a single weekend, after the original owners, Albany Book Company, had collapsed. The SPA managed to keep distribution going with minimal disruption and the resulting company, BookSource, continues to this day as the leading Scottish warehousing and distribution centre.

Other initiatives have been established in response to feedback. For instance, after the recommendation in a 2004 report on Scottish publishing commissioned by the Scottish Arts Council, the SPA launched BooksfromScotland.com to market and sell Scottish-interest books. While the website does not sell books anymore, it thrives as an active portal that showcases and promotes books either published in Scotland, of Scottish interest, or written by an author with Scottish connections.

 

Publishing Scotland: Present and Future

The Scottish Publishers Association was rebranded as Publishing Scotland (PS) in 2007 and its current membership encompasses the majority of Scottish-based publishers as well as network members such as universities, libraries, and freelance industry professionals. With its operations part-funded by Creative Scotland, PS offers a variety of events, initiatives, and schemes: from direct funds, such as the Go-See Fund enabling Scottish publishers to attend book fairs, to regular training courses aimed at helping publishers develop their creative and business skills.

An increasing focus for PS is to help make Scottish publishing more international and inclusive. In a country as small as Scotland, the best way to grow the publishing industry is by looking outside of ourselves, and by ensuring that publishing is accessible to people from different backgrounds. Of course, an outward-looking approach is not new to the organisation - one of our main and long-established activities every year is running a collective stand at international book fairs, where Scottish publishers can display their books and schedule meetings. Many of our recent and upcoming initiatives, however, are aimed at expanding this international focus and improving inclusivity. Launched in 2015, the International Fellowship Programme works to encourage relationships between international publishers and their Scottish counterparts; Scottish Books International, a new organisation part supported by Publishing Scotland, is dedicated to the international promotion of Scottish authors; and the upcoming Publishing Ambassadors scheme will involve publishers visiting schools in under-represented areas to introduce children to the industry and encourage them to consider joining it.

In a collection celebrating thirty years of the SPA in 2004, Timothy Wright wrote, "the future for Scottish publishers, and indeed for all independents, is both exciting and challenging. The multitude of corporate takeovers that has occurred over the last five years has given us a real opportunity to demonstrate that big does not mean better." And although there are undoubtedly many challenges of running a small publishing business, it is indeed an exciting time for the Scottish book trade. The last two decades saw the emergence of new independent publishers like Sandstone Press, Vagabond Voices, Bright Red Publishing, Charco Press, and 404 Ink - all filling a gap in the market with admirable nimbleness and creativity. We look forward to continuing to support Scottish publishers for years to come, helping them grow and promote their work in Scotland and beyond.

 

Alice Piotrowska is a fully-funded doctoral researcher at the University of Stirling, where she works in partnership with Publishing Scotland and HarperCollins to examine the last five decades of the publishing industry in Scotland. On top of her research work she freelances for the book trade and volunteers for the Society of Young Publishers Scotland.