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Oral - Welsh Language Publishing Industry
I am delighted today to have the opportunity to draw attention to the Welsh-language publishing industry. The written word is a vital component of Wales’s culture. Through the written word we can convey the modern Wales whilst also reflecting our traditions as a nation. The Assembly Government promotes publishing in both languages through the Welsh Books Council. Although it is Welsh-language publishing that is under consideration today, it is also appropriate to note the success of the English-language publishing sector in Wales. The additional funding from the Welsh Assembly Government, following the Culture, Welsh Language and Sport Committee’s report on English-medium writing in Wales in 2004, was a significant boost. This led to a number of exciting developments, including the establishment of the hugely successful series, Library of Wales, which now includes 26 volumes.
The Welsh Assembly Government investment during the last decade has developed Welsh-language publishing by ensuring a wide range of reading material— factual books and fiction as well as lively discussions in various magazines, either in print or online.
To turn to the range of books, the provision for small children is obvious, and contributes to the growth in Welsh-medium education. Indeed, the publishing industry has a vital role in promoting the language. If we want to encourage as many as possible who speak Welsh to use it, and to ensure that they have the confidence to do so, it is important to ensure that they are increasingly literate and familiar with written Welsh.
Following the report of the task and finish group on publishing in 2002, the Government provided additional funding to the publishing industry. The majority of this funding was spent on commissioning authors to create popular books. This additional funding succeeded in making a difference, especially in the field of novels and biographies, and a good range of novels were published by experienced authors and new voices. Publishers now commission work to answer the demands of the market.
Publishers now commission work to answer the demands of the market. This occurred to a degree after the council decided to give more freedom and responsibility to the publishing houses to choose which books to publish. The investment has led to an increase in the quality of the materials and an increase in sales. In the first three years of additional funding, 2003 to 2006, sales of Welsh novels were nearly 53,000, compared with less than 23,000 copies for the previous three years, which is an increase of 132 per cent.
During the last few months, we as a Government have given additional funding of £300,000 to the publishing industry for the financial year 2010-11. That will enable publishers to employ more creative editors to work hand in hand with authors. The aim, again, is to further improve standards and increase sales. Many of these posts are located in rural areas where many of the publishing and printing houses are located—businesses that are important employers in their communities. These posts have attracted a lot of interest and a number of editors have already started in their jobs. Within a few months, at least 20 editors will be working full time or part time in the publishing houses. This is a significant development and a wide-ranging programme of training will contribute to improving skills.
During the last few years we have seen obvious efforts to expand the market by ensuring that Welsh publications are available in as many locations as possible. The independent book shops are the backbone of the industry. However, alongside this it is good to see Welsh-language books and magazines being sold in large supermarkets as well as national chain stores, such as Waterstone’s and WHSmith. There is room for improvement, but these developments are very encouraging.
Another important development was the establishment of Golwg 360, a daily online news service. It has strengthened the Welsh-language press and developed and expanded professional, original and appealing journalism in Welsh. This development has taken the Welsh language and the Welsh-language press into the field of new media, but has also strengthened the traditional print magazines. Both media are equally as important. It is encouraging that Golwg 360 gives specific attention to the interests of young people, and I am confident that this development will lead to more readers of Welsh, especially among young people.
Publishing, like a number of other sectors, has developed substantially over the last few years due to technological developments. Books can now be published as e-books alongside the print format. For instance, six of Y Lolfa’s books are now available as e-books, including Y Llyfrgell, the novel that won the Daniel Owen award last year. That shows how important it is for the Welsh-language books market to capitalise on the new technology available.
Most of the Assembly Government funding received by the Welsh Books Council is channelled through the heritage portfolio. However, some funding is also distributed through the education department towards important schemes such as World Book Day, reading clubs and Stori Sydyn. These all contribute towards the effort to promote reading. Therefore, the Welsh-language publishing industry makes an obvious contribution towards Welsh-language culture, the economy and the future of the Welsh language. Undoubtedly, the Welsh-language publishing industry is a success story, even in these difficult economic times.