Rack Press, the Welsh imprint who won the Michael Marks Award in 2014, says: Like most poetry publishers we have found that we have to work harder than ever to maintain sales. There is an interesting mathematical relationship between the increase in the numbers of people writing poetry and the numbers of people buying it.” What’s your feeling about this?
Oh dear, how long do you have?! Yes, my understanding is that the market for poetry in commercial terms is miniscule. But the vast majority of fiction sells poorly also, so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about this.
And then there’s the problem that it’s only poets who buy single collections of poetry. Thinking as a marketer I would say that if more and more people are writing poetry, that’s more people to sell to. It should be easier to mobilise writers of poetry to buy more contemporary poetry than to convince ‘the general public.
The proliferation of courses, competitions, membership schemes and what-have-you is, of course, a response to lack of actual book sales. It’s a way of offering the growing army of poetry writers what they want – something that might contribute to their own success as poets – while at the same time subsidising what the publisher needs, which is to sell more books. Not that I’m accusing anyone of fleecing poets, but business is business.
This being the poetry world, naturally no-one can be in it for the money alone: courses, events and membership schemes offer a great deal in terms of education and exposure to fine poetry. They also help support the poetry business in general – and hopefully nurture the market for book sales. But the competition culture doesn’t suit everyone, so there’s a danger that some voices may never be discovered. Collectives like Telltale may be able, in a small way, to mitigate that danger.
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