Antonia Byatt, director of the UK Arts Council chaired this discussion this morning. She was joined by Isobel Dixon, poet and litearry agent, Kate Mosse, author of the best-selling Labyrinth, who founded the Orange Prize 15 years ago, and Alison Samuel, who joined Chatto and Windus in 1985 and was publishing director at Secko from 1998 until retiring recently.
Book publishing is a gamble, all agreed, but the role of the independent presses is not be discounted, said Mosse. Four out of the six Orange Prize shortlisted authors are from independent publishing houses. "Prizes matter more than ever," she said, citing the recognition that these awards bring.
However all also agreed that although British literature hasn't become risk averse, the book buying public has, retailers have as well as publishers. Said Dixon, "There's a lot more caution now compared to ten years ago. If your books haven't sold, it's two strikes and you're out."
"Let's be pragmatic," said Samuel, "All publishers have to make money, it's a business, an industry." She added, "Publishers are mad, when you consider that four out of five books don't even hot their budget sales, so what would you conclude from that?"
Lamenting the demise of book reviewing pages, it was agreed that from blogging to Twitter to Facebook, the networks still exist to spread the word about books. "I have no idea what is going to happen," said Samuel, "since I was in publishing I've been hearing about the death of the novel, but the words will still always be there."
(First published here)