1 What’s your company called?
2 What do you publish?
Mainly non-fiction, including Irish history, politics, business, cookery, lifestyle, sports and children’s books.
3 What’s the story of the company?
The Mercier Press was established in 1944, a few months before the end of the Second World War. It became the first Irish publisher to challenge accepted Catholic dogma with its first book, The Music of Life, by Father James, and its influence on Irish life cannot be underestimated. Its success proved that there was a demand for alternative ways of thinking in the new Ireland.
After the Second Vatican Council in 1962, many Catholic publishers went out of business but Mercier survived. Our list started to change direction with a range of books about Irish as well as Catholic issues, presenting the Irish people and their culture at home and abroad. Mercier’s paperbacks were born and brought something new to Irish publishing—at great risk as there was no precedent for how Irish people would react to books of this nature.
The 1960s was a period of censorship in Ireland and, never one to shy away from controversy, Mercier published the classic of Irish literature, The Tailor and Ansty by Eric Cross, which had been banned in Ireland. We also started to publish the work of great playwright John B Keane. By the 1970s Mercier had gained a reputation for being different and radical. We published a huge range of titles which lifted the lid on previously undiscussed matters like drug abuse, domestic violence, the sexual revolution and women’s rights. In a completely different vein, Mercier also published the phenomenally successful Book of Kerryman Jokes by Des MacHale, the demand for which was so great that wholesalers sent their delivery trucks directly to the printers to collect books off the press before they ever landed in the warehouse!
By the 1980s we were publishing 50 titles a year and were recognised as one of the largest and most successful trade publishers in the country. But recession then hit Ireland, and we changed focus again, becoming an established brand in Irish politics, folklore, history and current affairs. 2001 saw the publication of It’s a Long Way from Penny Apples by Bill Cullen, which went on to become one of the most successful Irish books ever published. The decades since 1944 have seen many changes in Irish life, and our business continues to change and evolve to reflect those changes. The acquisition of the classic Anvil and The Children’s Press lists added another dimension to our business and we are committed to keeping classic Irish texts for children and adults available for readers.
4 How’s business?
Good and very interesting as the way we communicate with readers through modern technology and different buying channels keeps changing. That has had major implications for the trade and the way people acquire their books.
5 What do you enjoy about being independent?
We believe in the importance of Irish heritage, and are proud of the contribution we have made to the country’s cultural life. We strive to offer an alternative voice to authors, readers and scholars.
6 What do you think is the biggest single issue in publishing right now?
Competing with multinationals and increased discount requests from the trade.
7 What one piece of advice would you give to a fellow independent just starting out?
Prepare well, especially in finance; keep an open mind on developing trends; be willing to adapt to circumstances; and be true to yourself.
8 What do you get out of belonging to the IPG?
We are members of Publishing Ireland as well, and find both organisations very helpful in keeping us aware of what is happening in world publishing. It is also great to belong to associations where you can lift up the phone and ask other members for advice on any subject. We have found over the years that publishers generously tell you about their experiences in similar situations.
Visit the Mercier Press website