The final countdown is on to our inaugural conference 2020: A Publishing Odyssey. So, we wanted to know what people thought different areas of the publishing world will (or should) be like come 2020. Liam Alastair Crouse looks to the future of Gaelic publishing.
To provide a short preamble to this article about Gaelic publishing, I first need to highlight some differences about the Gaelic-language industry, as opposed to the English-language industry.
Firstly, the sector’s future is tied to the future of the language. In simple terms, more Gaelic speakers means (theoretically) more Gaelic readers, a bigger market and a more successful industry.
Secondly, because they want to see an increase in Gaelic-language speakers, the industry should be understood as a part of broader linguistic revitalisation efforts. These extra market forces may not be immediately apparent to mainstream publishers (who look to produce content that is both commercially viable and culturally relevant).
Therefore, the sector faces different challenges, and possesses different goals and criteria for measuring success, than other majority-language industries. So bear with me.
Thirdly, as a very basic explanation of the state of the language in Scotland, we can say that the Gaelic language has continued to decline in terms of speaker numbers and community cohesion, despite increased support within the public sector. However, the rate of decline is slowing (i.e. a rate of decline of 17% between 1981-1991; 11% between 1991-2001; and 5% between 2001-2011) and the 2021 Census may see the first reversal of overall decline.
Crucially, in 2011, literacy rates in Gaelic were around 37%. However, with expansions in Gaelic education (GME & GLL) among other factors, this rate is set to increase.
Now to the publishing.
Within this environment, the different branches of Gaelic-language publishing have grappled with the first decade of the 21st century with mottled success. The main area of expansion was within prose fiction, with the ‘Ùr-Sgeul’ imprint (Clàr, a publishing company run by volunteers) leading the way. This imprint, concluded in 2013, has been followed on by the ongoing imprints ‘Aiteal’ by Acair and ‘Lasag’ by Sandstone, which have both been steadily added to the Gaelic literary vista.
The expansion of prose will most likely continue, producing more-or-less mainstream material (i.e. chick lit, social novels, sci-fi; in both print and electronically), featuring a noticeably Gaelic flavour. Genres geared towards young adults and learners will probably receive added support from public bodies looking to increase uptake amongst younger generations.
An interesting area of recent growth has been community-led initiatives, both of physical and virtual natures. Bàrdachd Scalpaigh (‘Gaelic song-poetry of Scalpay’), for example, was produced in 2014 by Harris Development Ltd, a not-for-profit community development company. Similarly, Dol Fodha na Grèine (‘The Going Down of the Sun’) was published by the Ness Heritage Centre and Acair Ltd in 2015 and Bho Ghinealach gu Ginealach (‘From Generation to Generation’) by Ceòlas Uibhist Ltd, another community non-profit group. The increased popularisation of self-publishing, with the reduced costs of small print runs through PoD, has allowed for a growth in community publications.
Gaelic has also moved online in an effort to cut costs and increase accessibility. Cothrom, the p-zine published by CLÌ Gàidhlig, was reissued as an e-zine in 2015 in light of funding difficulties. Dàna, Gaelic’s first e-zine run by a team of volunteers, continues since its launch in early 2014. Likewise, Gaelic has recently gained a foothold in new national newspapers which formed as a result of the 2014 Scottish Referendum. Both Bella Caledonia and The National feature new Gaelic columns, taking the place of The Scotsmans’ longstanding column which came to an end in 2015.
There is a final twist, however, and one that many publishers will know all too well. The success of this diversifying publishing sector ultimately boils down to how younger generations consume content and interact with the minority language. We say that the alternative to reading is watching a movie or playing video games. Well, the alternative to reading in Gaelic is all of that plus reading in English. Many pupils increasingly associate Gaelic with the classroom. So, then, what will get them to pick up a Gaelic book after school?
Liam Alastair Crouse is Oifigear Phlanaichean, Dearcnachadh (Gaelic Plans Officer Monitoring) at Bòrd na Gàidhlig and an editor at Dàna online magazine. He was previously Gaelic Development Officer at Ceòlas and graduated from the Stirling MLitt Publishing Studies course in 2014. All views in this blog post are his own.
There are still tickets available for our conference on March 18th, the first Society of Young Publishers one to take place in Scotland. Book your place over here.