Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Library of Wales confusion

Now I am seriously confused about the funding and the success -- or otherwise -- of the Library of Wales series.  In a BBC Report dated 2 Dec 2012, and based mostly on info provided by Jon Gower,  it is stated that the scheme costs £50,000 per year and that 50,000 copies of books from the series have been sold.


Library of Wales: Authors disagree over books' funding
    • 2 December 2012
    • From the section Wales politics
A call has been made for a scheme which republishes classic Welsh books that have gone out of print to continue to receive public funding.
Wales Book of the Year winner Jon Gower backs the Library of Wales series, which has sold 50,000 copies since it was launched in 2006.
It costs the Welsh government £50,000 a year for the Welsh Books Council scheme.

So far so good.  But we have already referred on this blog to a recent research report written by a Swansea University academic which indicates that accumulated sales by the end of 2013 were about 30,000 (no accurate figures are published) and that the cost to the taxpayer is over £100,000 per year.  (The sales figure of 30,000 is estimated and excludes books given away and trade returns.)

If we do some simple sums we see that it has cost £530,000 to sell 30,000 books -- and put another way, it has cost the taxpayer over £17 for every book sold.  As far as I can tell, the sales income from the books sold goes straight to the publisher, and does not have to be repaid to the Welsh Government.

No matter what the "cultural desirability" of this arrangement might be, in supporting the writers, publishers and culture of Wales, one does need to ask, ever so gently, how cost-effective this is.  More than half a million thrown at a scheme which effectively isolates the publisher from commercial risk and which seeks to keep in print a long list of literary titles which nobody wants anyway.  (OK -- lots of Welsh schools and universities will be using these books in their course work, and in that way they will be keeping Wales's "great literary masterpieces" alive -- but don't let's forget that many of them are really rather turgid, and that the reason why they all went out of print in the first place was that nobody wanted to buy them.........)



 Here is the link to the study done by somebody from Swansea University -- I suspect it was done as an "impact assessment" by the key beneficiaries of grant aid.  The title is: "The Library of Wales: influencing Government Policy to benefit the Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Education and General Readers".  In no sense is this an assessment of the cost effectiveness of the project.



The project is funded by the Welsh Government, the Welsh Books Council and Swansea University.  All of the titles in the "Library of  Wales" series are published  very professionally by Parthian Books.  I have no gripe with them -- they bid competitively for the project and won it, and the best of luck to them.....  My concerns strictly relate to the strategic or political decision to spend more than half a million pounds of taxpayers money on this, at a time when the funding of public services in Wales is under greater pressure than ever before.  

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