Books stay with people through their lives, and evoke place, time and company. They sit on a shelf and tell other people about who we are. In a world where travel is easier and faster than ever before, and world-wide electronic communication is instant and reliable, the resilience of the book as a way of transporting the reader lives on.
The most famous Irish authors, particularly those who write fiction for adults, are available around the world. Most of these, however, are with UK publishing houses whose scale and international presence makes this easy. While eBooks have a worldwide reach, the heart of the market is still in physical books. For small Irish companies, the challenge of selling heavy, cheap, low-margin items in a market saturated with product half the planet away is a little bigger!
As everybody building an international presence knows, there is no substitute for face to face meetings. Representing the Irish book publishing sector, I was lucky to be the guest of the Publishing Association of New Zealand (PANZ) in 2017, under the NZ government’s enlightened Te Manu Ka Tau (Flying Friend) programme for the arts. Meeting the whole industry there, and comparing with our own, was fascinating, and there were many learnings for the Irish publishing sector. Informal dinners and follow-up meetings at trade fairs have helped to cement relationships.
With my O’Brien Press hat on, of course, I was looking for sales and licensing opportunities! Culture is the main calling-card for Ireland worldwide, and as a small, green country with a big neighbour there is a natural empathy in New Zealand for Irish books. Roll on to June 2019 and we are delighted that six thousand units have hit the warehouse of our new partner Upstart Press in Auckland, led by the hugely experienced Kevin Chapman, and are now on sale in bookshops and school fairs throughout New Zealand.
As a publisher of books for adults and children, we can test the market across a wide range of titles. Unlike most UK publishers, who still print prices on the back of their books (weird but true! Look on your shelves …), we can readily price to market in a country where GST applies to books.
So, what do we think Kiwis are going to be interested in? Available in shops now is a children’s fiction series (Rugby Spirit by Gerard Siggins) which combines school, rugby and a great ghost story. We also have The O’Brien Book of Irish Fairy Tales and Legends, a beautifully illustrated, full-colour volume of myths for all the family, and The Whiskeys of Ireland, as the Irish drinks industry expands its footprint, we’re betting that this will create a market for those who want more information.
It’s a risk, and the timelines are very long, but it’s exciting to take the leap into new markets: with another 20 titles due to hit the New Zealand market through the rest of 2019 we are confident that Irish books can make a splash in the land of the long white cloud. Happy reading!