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I have discovered the secret to publishing success: print money.

Seriously, the success of a publishing house is directly connected to the following statement: if you publish books people want to own and read, they will buy them from you.  If they buy them from you in large amounts (over a few thousand copies) you make a profit on initial expenses, and can also cover overhead costs, marketing, salaries, design, postage, etc.

In short - if publishing as a business model is to be viable, the publishing company must produce goods/items/units/books that are in demand.

The reason poetry presses fail, struggle, and generally require state or private funding (subventions) to survive, is because they underperform at generating sales revenue.

In ugly words: poetry is something not in demand.

Despite some big selling poetry titles every year, most poetry titles will sell between 50 and 800 copies - usually around 200. Very few sell more than 2000.

A company that only produced books (or any product) that only 200 people wanted would soon face financial crisis, unless the total cost of manufacturing those items was less than the amount you could make from selling 200 copies (the most, after deductions to retailers and distributors is around 50% of cover price for most presses) - so if your unit cost was £10, you would make £5 per book sold - selling 200 would make you £1,000.

Most presses need revenue of at least £20,000 a year, if not triple that or more, to employ staff, and cover expenses - which means you would need to sell 4,000 books a year to break even.  And that would require you to produce around 20 poetry books a year.  And of course, this would not leave room for growth.

This is why almost all the poetry publishers are either supported by larger genres, or grants.


So, any press that is interested in publishing poetry and wishes to survive must

a) publish other kinds of books in greater demand;
b) find patrons;
c) seek arts support from government.

And this is what Eyewear currently is doing.

*This may be a good thing; poetry's resistance to commercialisation is a strength as an art form, but a challenge for anyone wishing to try and run a business based on selling poetry books to people, even excellent poetry books that might raise the consciousness of their readers.


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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.