Part of SYP Scotland’s inaugural conference | There are said to be over 40 literary festivals in Scotland, and we closed off our Tale For the Time Being thread by hearing from three.
Janet Smyth is the children’s and education programme director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival; she handles the children’s, YA and school’s programme, and events in their new outreach, Booked. Nikki Simpson is the business manager for PPA Scotland, the trade association for magazine publishers. Peggy Hughes is director of Literary Dundee, which includes Dundee Literary Festival.
So let’s start with the obvious: why are there so many in Scotland?
The payment debate.
Janet thinks it’s quite interesting, given the recent conversations in the field on author payment. There’s a debate. In the digital world, it’s becoming increasingly important for people to come together in person. There’s a thirst to come together and share ideas; even more so when you see that the library system is being decimated. They’re currently working on new projects including one in Falkirk, flagship projects that aim to create a space through reading in communities.
MagFest spawned from Edinburgh’s book festival, though Nikki admits it’s difficult to reach consumers for magazines, as it’s the topic rather than the notion of a magazine they’re drawn to. She struggles with the fees charging people to attend, she wants to keep it down and make it accessible. It’s not about making money, it’s about why you got into it, and remembering what matters at the core. You’re doing it because you love what you’re publishing.
But is there too many? For MagFest, they’re the only one who does magazine based events like that other than the SYP. The others agree that in terms of books, it’s a broad church. All have a different flavour, whether it’s the city, the community, or a chosen genre. Local festivals give a platform to local books, international festivals also have a duty to try showcase the local. It gives a sense of how Scotland related to the rest of the world. They like to try bring in young writers at the beginning of their career. It’s exciting in a programme to find those little nuggets of gold.
Finances are complex, programming is too; how do publishers come into that? No money goes to a publisher for Edinburgh, but other festivals operate differently. They have a close relationship with publishers, long meetings. Publishers usually cover travel costs when they can. Janet believes that book festivals are near enough the only platform that provides an audience and booksales for authors; though it is true that there are no others of that scale.
Life should be fun.
“We’re doing it for the fun,” says Nikki. “Sometimes we forget that we can have fun.” If you’re continually driven by money, it’s going in the same circles. Life should be fun. Peggy notes that you’ve also got to think about “what a festival does for places” – the length people will travel for an author they love is truly special.
Fees. It’s the hot topic. Scotland has been deemed to be at the forefront on this topic in the press – are they important? Edinburgh have a standard fee policy; whether you’re a bestseller or a debut author, you get paid the same fee. They get offered the same accommodation package deal. That doesn’t change. It’s a tough topic in general, but it’ll be interesting to see how the discussion pans out.
For Nikki, her work is B2B so it’s not so much of an issue. They put families up for a weekend to give them the chance to see Edinburgh, but can’t pay for fees. Back to books, the publisher is the start of all these chats – a bit of a buffer between the festival and author, so both are slightly protected as the publisher tries to work both sides.
2020: A Publishing Odyssey has an element of looking to the future, so for book festivals, what does that look like? TEDx events and Cycle Hack are two companies that come up based on their model of releasing their format for others to use with their branding. Then there’s The Story Machine, an immersive literary event like no other you’ve experienced, and Scot Lit Fest, the country’s first virtual book festival, beaming the fun to your couch. Just four names that may be ones to keep an eye out for in terms of doing something different.
A fun fact (especially if you’re a print enthusiast): book sales are on the increase. But who’s buying them? Under 20s. How do you pull through young readers? That’s important. How to get their hands onto books, to share the sheer joy of reading that we all know. It’s fascinating. There’s ways in, like livestreaming and Twitter.
To the floor: the other year Stephen Fry did an event in Edinburgh where a copy of the book was included in the ticket price. Is that something that would work in future more often? The logistics of trying to do that for the upcoming Irvine Welsh event for Edinburgh was beyond Edinburgh International Book Festival. Their infrastructure is geared towards their eighteen days in August. It would lead to a crazy gradation of ticket pricing. There’s ideas like using the ticket price against the purchase of a book for people to redeem, or how to monetise ebookery. It’s all a case of working out the logistics.
Just a peek into the vibrant literary festival culture our country has to offer.
For all updates and recaps from #SYP2020, click here.