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John Storey

Gaelic Publishing in the 21st Century: a Lecture by John Storey

May 11th, 2013 by Amanda Losonsky | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Gaelic Publishing in the 21st Century: a Lecture by John Storey
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Amanda Losonsky reports on John Storey’s visiting speaker session:

On 11 April, John Storey of the Gaelic Books Council, Comhairle nan Leabhraichean, came and spoke to the publishing students at the University of Stirling. His topic of discussion: Gaelic publishing and publishing in the 21st century.

In the country of the language’s birth, Gaelic is currently a minoritized language, meaning that it still isn’t widely spoken. In 2011, only 1.9% of the population have some ability in Gaelic while 0.9% can read the language, a percentage that has gone up since 1991. Yet despite these low numbers, there is a worldwide interest in the Gaelic language, with supporters and learners from countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia.

Because there exist so many who are interested in the language, Gaelic publishers must ensure their content will be well-received by many different markets; they cannot solely be thinking in terms of Scotland. Otherwise put, Gaelic publishers must follow and adhere to the principles that Storey termed as “The Beiber Effect”, which simply means “it must be cool”.

The Gaelic Books Council exists not as a publisher of Gaelic pieces, but as a council that supports and offers aid to those who wish to write and publish in the language. Their main aim is to build a capacity within the Gaelic publishing industry. They do everything from identify and support Gaelic authors, commission new pieces, develop content, market and design—all with just five staff members! In addition, the Council covers not only Scotland’s interest in the language, but overseas as well. In a world where Gaelic is so often overlooked and forgotten, it is the Gaelic Books Council’s job to remind people of the language’s presence and significance.

There have been a number of developments and innovations within the market in the past few years. In the 20th century, Gaelic publishing focused primarily on poetry, yet the 21st century saw the rise of “Gaelic punks”. Since then, freedom of expression has continued to grow within the Gaelic market. In April 2013, the very first Gaelic Science Fiction novel written by Tim Armstrong was published by CLÀR, which shows the versatility of the Gaelic market. There have also been a number of translations of well-known English titles into Gaelic as well. Some of these include: “Peter Rabbit”, “The Gruffalo”, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “MacBeth”.

But Storey states that one of the most important developments for the Gaelic language is Ur-Sgeul. Started in 2003, Ur-Sgeul promotes new Gaelic fiction and also established opportunities for new writers. It encourages new Gaelic writers, as well as a new generation of authors. There have also been collaborations with musicians as well. In addition, Ur-Sgeul also had the first ever German-Gaelic collaboration as well. Ur-Sgeul really helped set the bar in terms of the quality of writing.

Yet there also exist a number of complications within the Gaelic publishing market. One of the biggest issues is that the market itself is quite fragile. While there do exist a few Gaelic publishers, such as Acair, CLÀR, Leabhraichean Beaga, Scottish Gaelic Texts Societ, and Padua, the market for Gaelic books is currently small, which makes it difficult to be profitable.

In addition, the quality of content can also present a problem for the market as well. Because the market is small, there is always a struggle to find quality Gaelic writing, which raises a number of questions and dilemmas for Gaelic market. How do you afford Gaelic authors freedom while still maintaining standards? What role does a publishers play in this issue? How do you discourage Gaelic authors from running to Amazon?

Speaking of Amazon, another issue is the limited avenues for minority languages to sell their products. Amazon still discriminates against minority languages, as was seen recently with Amazon’s lack of support for Welsh pieces on Kindle readers. The most recent statistics taken for the Gaelic market regarding ereaders showed that only 16% of Gaelic readers were interested in ereading, however, these statistics were taken in 2010 and current demands hint to the fact that these numbers have increased. With lacking support from such a well-known source like Amazon, how can Gaelic push its way into the digital marketplace? Or can Gaelic forge a digital path for itself without Amazon’s support?

And, of course, with 2014 approaching and a big decision on Scotland’s independence to be made, what will come of Gaelic publishing in the future? No matter what the outcome of the referendum, a New Scotland is on the horizon, and with it comes a new future for Gaelic and publishing.

It’s an important time for Gaelic publishing, Storey concludes, but this is just a crossroads. The 21st century affects Gaelic publishing just as much as it affects English publishing, but it also invites a mix of its own problems as well. Gaelic publishers must offer added value in their products. They need to be innovative in their approach to present content. They need to understand the brand and have strong imaginative interaction with audiences, but there are many opportunities available to make the market stronger.

In collaboration with the Gaelic Books Council, the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication is offering a fully-funded scholarship for a Scottish Gaelic language student. Full details are available here.