Week Two: Working Class Hero Mark Two: Electric Boogaloo

Kevin Duffy, owner and co-founder of Bluemoose Books in Hebden Bridge.

Introduction to Bluemoose Books

Kevin started out in sales and marketing in 1986, motivated by bile, anger and rage at classism in publishing. After getting the name of a big publishing executive wrong and weathering the resulting tantrum he changed his name to Collum O’Driscoll to take advantage of all of the money that was being thrown at Irish writers, and changed his age to 37 to take a shot at awards given out to writers aged under 40. Bluemoose was founded to enable him to publish his own book, and it required a remortgage of his family home to do it.

The Net Book Agreement essentially created a rigged market by outlawing booksellers from discounting titles at the point of sale, and this has generated an extremely risk averse environment in publishing, and as a result the process among the so-called Big Six has become almost algorithmic. Any given success is replicated immediately, and the industry favours tried and tested, ‘safe’ books. The profile of any typical author or anyone working in decision making positions/positions of power in publishing is likely to be white, male, and middle class, and the same goes for any given book.

For the large, corporate publishers such as Random Penguin the CEO makes decisions based upon a growth model of 10% annually, and a minimum dividend returned to shareholders of 10%, and therefore the commissioning process relies on a profit-sustaining model rather than anything to do with creativity, original new material or betting on under-represented voices. This is reflected in the fact that six of the last ten Man Booker Prize winners have come from the stables of independent publishers. What this describes is a situation where the big publishers are concerned only with the next big hit. There is a huge space for indies to pick up new, original and exciting talent. This means the working classes, BAME writers, women and LGBTIQ authors.

The cynical nature of Big Publishing is also reflected by the fact that Bertelsmann employs 5000 accountants at its head office. This is clearly devoted to maintaining and increasing market share by way of advancing the books most likely to return big profits. Given that the CEOs of these huge companies will have substantial elements of their remuneration tied to the financial growth of the publishers it is clear that the neo-capitalist, Ayn Randian business model is here to stay.

This also further establishes indies as potential feeder publishers who are doing the research and development work of the larger publishers. Many successful authors are poached by big money agreements from the Big Six and this makes indies tributaries to the river of Big Publishing. What indies can offer is a similar arrangement to the one in the indie music scene. Kevin maintains a personal relationship with his authors, talking to them regularly, working closely on promotions, marketing and sales with them, and he is in a position to battle hard for their interests. Big Publishing’s loss is Kevin’s and the reader’s gain, as he is now able to sniff out under-represented talent that is ignored by the mainstream, often with great success.


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