Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 25, July 1999 


Publishing development in the Caribbean

Round table in St Lucia, February 1999

Ian Randle
Ian Randle is President and Publisher of Ian Randle Publishers, 206 Old Hope Road, Box 686, Kingston 6, Jamaica. Tel +1 876 927 2085, fax +1 876 977 0243, e-mail:, and Managing Director of The Caribbean Law Publishing Company based in Kingston, Jamaica.

The first ever international focus on publishing in the Caribbean took the form of a round table conference in Castries, St Lucia on 19 February 1999. An island of only 238 square miles with a population of 150,000, St Lucia has no indigenous commercial publishers but boasts the only two Nobel laureates from the Caribbean region - Sir Arthur Lewis for economics and Derek Walcott for poetry.

In a week when the island was celebrating its 20th anniversary of independence from Britain with a series of lectures and seminars billed as 'Encounters of Excellence' the round table was not only given official sanction by the government but took the focus of the week's activities.

The idea of a round table to focus attention on publishing development (or the lack of it) in the Caribbean came out of a concern that as a region the (English-speaking) Caribbean has failed to develop a sustainable publishing industry, and that after a generation of independence there is little evidence of any growth or development in this area. The overall aim of the discussion therefore was to explore in a preliminary way how the players in the industry as well as other interest groups in the private and public sectors could begin to build local capabilities, and to identify the various components that might be needed to facilitate and sustain viable publishing entities.

The government of St Lucia provided accommodation, subsistence and very high-quality conference facilities while the regional officer for UNESCO in Barbados provided financial support to fly in the presenters.

In the one-day session eight papers were presented by publishing professionals from both within and outside the region and by non-publishing professionals. The stage was set early on by Pearl Eintou Springer, Director of the National Heritage Library of Trinidad and Tobago, who gave a spirited presentation on the important link between the development of indigenous publishing and cultural preservation. The state of regional co-operation in curriculum development and how increased co-operation could impact on the development of local publishing was examined by Coleen Winter Brathwaite, the regional representative for UNESCO based in Barbados. Jackie Cousins, who heads the Jamaican Ministry of Education's Media Services Unit, provided insights on co-operation between the government (public sector) and commercial publishers (private sector) in the production of textbooks, and the implications for publishing development.

The 'nuts and bolts' papers were presented by the publishing practitioners. Shirley Carby of Carlong Publishers in Jamaica gave a polished presentation of the copyright issues. In recent times Mrs Carby has played a leading role in the establishment of a reproduction rights organisation in Jamaica. Robert Baensch, who directs the publishing programme at New York University in the US, examined the training needs and resources necessary for sustainable publishing development, and offered support in the development and delivery of training programmes in publishing.

The other area of focus related to trading. Ian Randle shared with participants the frustrations involved in trading within the region and identified the many barriers, some natural but most artificial, which need to be removed if publishing is to become viable as a regional enterprise. And given the small size and fragmented nature of the regional market, Caribbean publishers need to look to external markets to become and remain viable. Markus Wiener of Markus Wiener Publishers in Princeton New Jersey, USA, identified some of the requirements for trading internationally in books.

In a deliberate attempt not to have the discussion unduly focused on textbook publishing, Frank Pike of the UK firm Faber and Faber presented a paper on how Faber and Faber had established its list of Caribbean Writers, including Derek Walcott, and provided valuable insights into what it took to develop a successful fiction list, something no Caribbean publisher has achieved.

Although the programme was ambitious and wide-ranging for a one-day conference, the presentations generated lively discussions not only among the presenters but among the 60-plus local participants (in a country with no publishers) and two Trinidad publishers who had flown in at their own expense.

At the end of the day's presentations, there was a repeated appeal from the floor that the round table should not end as another talk shop and that a programme of follow-up action should be identified. Out of this discussion emerged the suggestion that an appropriate first step should be the formation of a regional publishers association, and Ian Randle was mandated to begin the preparatory work. It was agreed that a forthcoming Regional Consultation on National Book Policies scheduled to be held in Kingston, Jamaica from 29 June to 2 July 1999 would provide an ideal opportunity to organise a meeting of regional publishers with a view to launching the Association.  [end] [BPN, no 25, 1999, p 6.]

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