LivingArts: Money

Today let’s talk about money. Money is the difficult part of the arts. Society seems to think we’re supposed to be doing this for the love of it, but in the end, love doesn’t pay the rent. As a result all arts organizations, and artists, end up walking that delicate line between creating art for art’s sake and not worrying about the dictates of the market, and trying to find a way to write that cheque to the landlord. I’m crafting this blog post after finishing a couple of back-to-back grant applications and just before I’m about to dive into writing catalogue copy for our fall books. A good part of my job is selling art so that my writers don’t have to do so much selling.

I won’t go into the intricacies of how I explain to arts councils why local literature is a good thing, or how I try to put together compelling catalogue copy for a debut poetry collection; that’s not really the focus of this post. The idea is that a key part of an arts organization like a publishing house is to mitigate the financial risk of creating art. We can’t take it all away, as much as we’d love to, but we’d like to do what we can to make sure the rent gets paid, all the bills associated with creating a book, or play, or album get dealt with and hopefully the artist takes something home at the end of the day.

I estimate it costs me at least $7,500 to bring out a book of poetry, over double that for a long novel, and I know I’ll never make all that back in sales. These costs include paying the author, editor, designer, printer, distribution company, sales reps, any marketing bills and the overhead of running the office. So I apply for a suite of grants to keep things running, from the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Ontario Media Development Corporation. Of course, I try to sell the books. I work hard to get them in the bookstores, which means writing up that catalogue copy, talking to sales reps, talking to bookstores, putting together spreadsheets of data to send to Amazon and Chapters/Indigo and the library wholesalers. But the market is fickle, as we all know. You can rarely count on sales. That’s why we assume the risk for our authors.

We don’t like to talk about money in the arts, because the numbers can be grim, but looking at it honestly helps to make it clear how artists and the organizations who work together with them support each other.