Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Future Of Salt

Bad news from Salt. Due to the economic downturn, the business has struggled. It looked, at first, like Salt would have to cancel all its remaining scheduled publications for 2009, although there is talk that a few of those books may now be published.

Salt isn’t bankrupt. It’s still trading and all the books you see on its website (including my own collection) are still available and will continue to be available. But it’s going to have to operate on a much smaller scale in the future. It’s a real tragedy for Chris and Jen who have put so much of their time, energy and passion into the business. The other main loss here is for British poetry – for poets and readers. With a bit of luck, Salt might have fully established itself as a major force in UK poetry publishing, financially stable, much like Bloodaxe did a couple of decades ago, and it’s a force that is much needed. So much that’s been exciting in poetry in the last few years has been brought to view though Salt. What it has achieved has been considerable, but it’s now going to have to cut back.

Whatever happens, it shows how precarious life is for small publishers at the moment, particularly those who are attempting to produce quality literature. Even if, like Salt, you win loads of prizes and are short-listed for many top awards, even if you are recognised as one of the best publishers of poetry and short stories out there, even if you have the best website and a furious work ethic, you’re still competing with a culture that feeds us with celebrity cookbooks and kiss-and-tell biographies on its shop windows, and ‘3 for 2’ special-offer novels, which account for a massive percentage of UK book sales, are its most visible promotion.

Anyway, if you’re wondering what to read next, you could do far worse than go to the Salt website and choose a couple of titles. There’s almost no chance you’ll be disappointed.


Here's a message from Chris Hamilton-Emery, Salt's director:

"Here's how you can help us to save Salt.


1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

Salt UK and International Store

Salt USA Store

2. Share this note on your Facebook and MySpace profile [and on your blogs]. Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now.

With my best wishes to everyone


Nic Sebastian said...

this is disheartening indeed. so much good and new seemed to be coming from Salt. fingers crossed for the future.

David Floyd said...

"With a bit of luck, Salt might have fully established itself as a major force in UK poetry publishing, financially stable, much like Bloodaxe did a couple of decades ago, and it’s a force that is much needed."

The difference being that, as far as I know, Bloodaxe continues to receive regular ACE subsidy.

The point about what Salt were trying to do is that - as I understand it - the aim was to scale up the business in a way that would make it sustainable without ongoing subsidy.

While the national/global economic collapse hasn't helped and is clearly the trigger for Salt scaling down its activities at this specific point, it's far from clear - on the simple basis that no one is doing it - that it's possible to run a a professional* poetry/short story press without subsidy from either grants organisations or more profitable bits of a larger business.

If it's not then Salt's problems have wider implications for poetry publishing as a whole.

*Professional in these terms meaning that some is earning a living from the work, I recognise that there are many sustainable unsubsidised presses with high professional standards but whose staff teams work part-time or voluntarily.

Tania Hershman said...

Hi Rob,
as a fellow Salt author, I am quite shocked by your blog post. Could you let us know where you heard about this? As far as I know, Salt is fine - of course, funding is always an issue, but they are forging ahead with their new projects and, as always, developing new and innovative ideas for keeping ahead of the pack!

Rob said...

Tania, you can read about it here - it’s from Chris himself.

His final posts in the thread seem a little bit more hopeful. I'll add his appeal to my post now.

Also, on Tony Williams’s blog, you can read two posts. Again, the news now seems a little better. It appears as though at least some of the 2009 publications might happen after all, but people have to buy some books!

Colin Will said...

Yes, it's very sad news, but at least Salt's still in business, and the more of us buy Salt books the better chance they'll have of weathering the storm. It's a fantastic list, so if you can afford it, check out the website and buy some high quality writing.

Rob said...

I just bought a couple of books - Anne Berkeley's new collection and the Michael O'Brien Selected.I would have got these anyway, but might have left it until next month otherwise.

Has anyone read anything before by Juan Gelman? His book is described on the Salt website as "This translation offers to English readers for the first time the splendid verse of imaginary American author Sidney West, created by Juan Gelman, one of the greatest living poets of the Hispanic world." I've found out from the Web that he is regarded as Argentina's greatest living poet. Sounds really interesting, although the link to his author page and smaple .pdf etc doesn't seem to be working at the moment.

Rob said...

David, I meant to comment on your post, which is quite sobering. I think Bloodaxe is profitable and isn't staying afloat simply by grants, but whether it makes enough to support its staff I don't know. I'd guess not, but might be wrong.

I know Chris said that Salt were possibly only a year away from becoming finacially stable, but that a few grants would be necessary after that to allow them to develop farther.

David Floyd said...


As one of the Arts Council's Regularly Funded Organisations the current subsidy for Bloodaxe is:
2008/9 - £93,765
2008/10 - £96,297
2010/11 - £100,004

Funding information re: RFOs is freely available on the ACE website.

What's not there - thst could be more frightening - is an indication of the % of turnover represented by subsidy.

These figures - other heavily-subsidised presses include Carcanet (£116,565 this year), Anvil (£89,831 this year) and Enitharmon (£47,492 this year).

This illustrates the extent to which Salt were attempting to break the mould by going unsubsidised this year - recession or no recession.

Rob said...

David, thanks.

These figures are astonishing, especially when you consider how few new books some of these presses publish compared to Salt.