Friday, 9 January 2015

How to Fund Events?

The German-speaking countries have a fairly unique breadth of literary events. In Berlin, for example, you can choose from probably about a dozen readings most nights, from two poets at the back of a bookshop to a theatre full of fans drooling over a big-name novelist. Formats range from the sublime to the ridiculous, one of my least favourite being the two-hour session with three critics and one poor writer, while the audience wishes they'd brought along extra cushions.

German writers tend to be on the road a lot (and surprised when they don't get invited to tour the UK to promote their books in translation). Readings, you see, are a source of income for them. They can be a bit coy about prices, but I'd put a decent fee for a reading at around €300. It's hard impossible to make that much money back on the door without charging forbiddingly high prices. Add on the hours worked by all the other people involved – moderator, venue staff, organizers, etc. – and it becomes a mug's game.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot recently. I want to start an event series bringing together people writing in English and German in Berlin. But I don't want to ask people who usually earn €300 to appear on stage for free, or indeed for significantly less. For me, that meant applying for public subsidies. My first application was rejected and I hear back about the second one in February. Keep your fingers crossed that Berlin-Mitte's cultural funding will stretch to such a non-worthy undertaking. I have a Plan C up my sleeve if all else fails, though.

The UV - Independent Publishers' Reading is a major event to coincide with the Leipzig Book Fair in March. And the organizers are facing the same questions – their funding application for this year was rejected and they were advised to put the prices up (implicitly, I'd say that would also mean putting the authors' fees down). They solved the problem in 2013 with a crowdfunding campaign, but like me they seem to be in two minds about the crowdfunding principle.

My objection is that I think it favours snazzy, gimmicky projects that attract attention but don't necessarily – how can I say this? – make the literary world a better place. Yes, I know not everything has to do that. I know twenty people going home with a smile on their face is a fine thing, too, and that's part of what I want to do. The UV people ask: "Does crowdfunding really offer liberation from financial dependencies – or does the principle of begging to the crowd contribute to the privatization of a societal problem – the under-financing of culture – and make self-exploitation and exploitation of friends even more chronic?"

The option I see happening in the UK is sponsoring. I detest the idea of running, I don't know, "Coke Zero Book Nites" – where I and other people invest our passion and a corporation gets the credit and the literary credentials. Bleuch. Happily, I can't think of any examples in Berlin, although Readux events do sometimes involve free drinks donated by alcohol producers, and I admit I've drunk more than my fair share on occasion. Ach. Maybe I'll think it over properly when Coke Zero really does come knocking.

So what are the UV people doing to fund their huge eighteen-writer event? They're launching their own funding campaign: Make Your Own Superpublisher. I have to say, I don't quite get the difference between this and an ordinary crowdfunding thing, but then I've got a terrible cold and my brain's not working very well. Either way, you can purchase either postcard sets of sort of dress-up-doll publishers (slim, white, kinda male, trousered but I suppose you could colour him/her in or alter him/her in other ways) plus adhesive accessories, or life-size cardboard cutout publishers with stick-on facial and head hair, shirt and of course glasses. It's quite funny. I mean, it won't solve the problem once and for all and it seems to involve quite a lot of up-front effort by someone or other (file under: self-exploitation) – but it's a very eye-catching way to raise the issue.

So: more public funding for culture, please, and until then hooray for all the crazy people who do this literary event stuff out of the goodness of their hearts. If you've been looking for a cardboard-cutout of a publisher, this is your chance. Darts not included.


Christine Koschmieder said...

"...but like me they seem to be in two minds about the crowdfunding principle." Thank you for dissecting exactly THIS point of our arguing - for that is the campaign´s main purpose (aside than funding the UV authors fees 2015):to have us, the publishing business´ symptomatic model-self-exploiters, find ways to convert self-exploitation into political currency. May your post serve as ignition ;)

kjd said...

Let's hope so, Christine - although I suspect your campaign may be more effective.