The Bookseller, via The Digital Reader, reports on stern words by Nick Kent, managing director of Peter Owen Publishers. He claims “I do think the library service has completely betrayed the publishing trade in Great Britain”.

Surely no publisher can really blame their customers for not buying their product. Everyone has a budget, and customers have to make choices among all available products they might buy — and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Maybe Peter Owen isn’t publishing books which are important enough for libraries to buy. It so ill behooves a publisher to make a complaint like this that I want to believe that Mr Kent didn’t really mean it, and was quoted out of context. We all know that in the heat of debate words can come out of our mouths in a sequence which doesn’t really reflect what we believe. However his quoted words do go on, on theme, for long enough for this to seem an unlikely excuse.

We are all aware of the funding reductions faced by libraries, particularly severe in the UK right now, as attested by The Guardian and The Bookseller. I don’t think anyone, including Mr Kent, should be under any illusion that government funding to libraries comes trailing an implication that part of these funds are intended to support the book publishing industry. If the current UK government’s austerity policies contained an exception for independent publishing, I think we’d all know about it.

Maybe once upon a time it was possible for publishers to budget for a sale of about 1,000 copies to libraries, but that was a nice temporary freak, not some built-in right, even if it did last for 30 years or so. Things are harder now. I don’t believe publishers will stop publishing books: people will keep on writing them, and many of them will want some assistance in getting them out. Publishing companies have gotten used to making good money. It is harder now, and will continue to get harder. Books that just wash their faces financially may well be the new normal. With so many books out there now, and all of them potentially immortal, it just becomes necessary to make the books we do publish as excellent as possible. The second-rate or just OK cannot slide by as it may have done in the past.

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