In what will no doubt be distressing news for poets and readers alike, The Guardian reports that the independent publisher Salt will no longer be releasing collections of work by individual poets, opting instead to focus on anthologies featuring a variety of contributors. The reason, as anyone with any kind of awareness of poetry’s current standing in modern literature could likely guess, is a decrease in sales, both for the form in general and specifically in Salt’s own collections, with the company reporting a decline of over a quarter in the past year and of a full half over the past five years.
‘It’s simply not viable to continue doing them unfunded,’ Salt director Chris Hamilton-Emery says of the decision. ‘We have tried to commit to single author collections by funding them ourselves, but as they have become increasingly unprofitable, we can’t sustain it.’ 2012 saw the value of the poetry market drop to £6.7 million, continuing a steady decline from the £8.4 million it was worth in 2009. Hamilton-Emery points to the disappearance of brick and mortar book shops from the high street as a factor in the market’s troubles, but also to the huge proliferation of poetry titles published over the past few years: ‘We think that’s a good thing, but we can’t commercially be part of it’, he says, adding ‘As a very small, niche commercial publisher, we can’t possibly sustain what we have done in the past.’
Of the UK’s top ten biggest selling poetry titles since 2011, five have been the work of Carol Ann Duffy, whose position as Poet Laureate naturally gives her a degree of recognition not afforded many of her peers. Even so, her most popular title in that time period – 2011’s The Christmas Truce – has only sold a total of 38,181 copies in the two years since its publication. The Guardian contrasts this with the 23,821 that Martina Cole’s most recent novel, 2012’s The Life, sold in seven days last week. Faced with figures like that, Salt’s decision – whilst still disheartening – at least begins to seem a little more understandable.