The Edinburgh International Book Festival will be scaled back next year (Robert Perry/PA)
18 November 2022

Book festival to scale back and cut jobs amid challenging economic climate

18 November 2022

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is to scale back its programme to weather “highly challenging” times amid the current economic climate and the impact of the pandemic.

Festival chiefs also plan to drop live streaming of events after seeing income this year 40% down on 2019, the last time a full-scale festival took place.

They hope to reduce costs by about 25% and have begun redundancy talks with the 32 full-time staff at the festival, which will mark its 40th anniversary next year.

Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) said the changes in audience booking behaviour since the start of the pandemic and the continuing hesitancy around Covid amongst some of the festival’s core audiences, has been exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.

As a result, people are attending fewer events and spending less money while costs are continually rising, with indications the situation will continue into 2023 and beyond.

EIBF said: “We have prepared a prudent strategy to weather this highly challenging period. For the Book Festival Charity to deliver an economically sustainable book festival in 2023, the scale of the operation will be reduced, including cutting expenditure across all areas of the organisation and revising the delivery of the festival itself.

“This has required some tough decisions, most heartbreakingly the resizing of the incredibly talented team behind the festival and charity’s work, and pausing our streaming activity, which has been such a success in opening up the festival but costs a significant amount and is unaffordable in the current climate.”

The festival will take place as planned from August 12–28 next year at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), however, it is expected that there will be about 100 fewer events than this year.

The cuts are expected to reduce the workforce of about 150 temporary and core staff that was in place this year for the festival, which moved from its previous home in Charlotte Square to ECA in 2021.

EIBF director Nick Barley told The Scotsman newspaper that the figures for ticket and book sales were “pretty brutal” in 2022.

He told the newspaper: “Our programme this year was two thirds of the size of 2019 as we’d predicted lower demand.

“Our ticket sales forecasts were lower than what we’d always achieved at Charlotte Square, in terms of the percentage of seats sold for each event.

“But the figures were well below what we’d predicted. The number of people booking tickets was only 9% down. But the number of tickets they bought was 33% down.

“As a number of tickets were to watch online, for which the average income was lower, the amount of money we earned was 40% down. That’s the new benchmark for us.”

Festival chiefs said there will still be a varied programme of events for adults, children and schools, and as usual next year’s festival will feature a large range of author talks, creative workshops and discussions with Scottish, UK and international authors.

Meanwhile, the Book Festival Charity continues to bring free events and books to all school children via its Baillie Gifford schools programme and the Baillie Gifford transport fund which offers support toward travel costs, while the communities programme continues to connect creatively with people in their own communities.

Work will also continue to prepare for the planned move from ECA to the book festival’s new permanent home at the University of Edinburgh’s Futures Institute in 2024.

It comes after the charity which runs the Edinburgh International Film Festival called in administrators last month after facing a “perfect storm of sharply rising costs, in particular energy costs”.

The Centre for the Moving Image (CMI), which also ran the Filmhouse Cinema and Cafe Bar in Edinburgh and the Belmont Filmhouse in Aberdeen, said the film festival and the two cinemas would cease trading with immediate effect.

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