A Local Publisher Considers the Benefits of The Scottish Design Exchange

You can say what you like about ebooks — but they are damned easy to ship. Someone buys one and they download it with a tap or a click — and as a publisher you’ve started to make your money back.

Shipping physical books is a different matter and if you are rash enough to publish them, you’ll find the costs of distribution will define how your business works.

If you’re a Scottish publisher and you use Amazon, you’ll probably accept a 60% discount and ship your books to a distributor, to whom you’re paying a monthly storage fee.  If you use the Edinburgh International Book Festival shop, you’ll also pay a discount, plus a shelf-rental cost, which was £180 per shelf when I used the shop.  That’s a lot just to display your books, so it isn’t for everybody.

Even shipping to chain bookstores and independent stores can get expensive if you are a small publisher, and even large publishers feel the squeeze — it’s a tough market and the only way to succeed is volume.

That’s why Scotland’s small and micro-publishers are gathering at the Scottish Design Exchange. If you can’t be a big business, then why can’t small enterprises form collectives and ‘be big’ that way?  It’s a model that’s working well at Ocean Terminal, where the experiment of the Scottish Design Exchange has been a boon for Scotland’s small publishers.

Among the publishers represented in the Scottish Design Exchange are Fledgling Press (Portobello) Thirsty Books (Edinburgh), Tapsalteerie (Aberdeenshire), Vagabond Voices (Glasgow) and Leamington Books (Edinburgh). At the Scottish Design Exchange these publishers have been able to come together to form their own bookshop.  Although collectively they offer children’s books, thrillers, and local interest titles, they can also sell off-beat, little known and underground publications, which for reasons of scale, are sometimes too small to get into the chain bookstores.

The other attraction for the publishers is that there is no house discount, and so they will collect 100% of the revenues from the bookshop. Duncan Lockerbie of Tapsalteerie was one of the first to jump at the chance of trying out this new retail model.

"As a small poetry pamphlet press,” he said, “it can be really difficult to find places to show your work to the public. Pamphlets tend to disappear on bookshop shelves when surrounded by bigger publications, and the cost of sending books out round the country can be prohibitive. Our publications really benefit from being displayed face up too — something that very few retailers are able to offer us."

Now other publishers are joining up, keen to explore this brand new model and take part in Leith’s most exciting new bookshop.  At the Scottish Design Exchange readers will not only find a selection of Scottish books they may not know about, but it is a super-ethical way to shop, as they know the money they spend is going straight to the producers, with no middlemen whatsoever.

A version of this article appeared in The Little Leither in Nov 2015