Book festivals valued at more than £11.3m for Scottish economy

Scotland's book festivals are worth more than £11.3 million to the economy, new research has revealed.

The annual Wigtown Book Festival is said to be worth more than £4.3 million to the economy.
The annual Wigtown Book Festival is said to be worth more than £4.3 million to the economy.

Published to coincide with World Book Day, it found that Scotland’s main literary events attracted an overall audience of more than 780,000 when they were last staged in full in 2019.

More than 2500 events featuring 2800 authors were staged across the country by festivals as far afield as St Andrews, Nairn, Mallaig and the islands of Islay and Skye over the course of 12 months.

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The research included high-profile events such as the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival in Stirling, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Aye Write in Glasgow and the long-running festival in Wigton, Scotland’s “national book town.”

The Bloody Scotland crime writing festival has been running in Stirling since 2012.

It has highlighted how more than 450 permanent and part-time jobs were created by Scottish book festivals in 2019.

However the research also found that more than 850 volunteers were deployed by festivals, with 88 per cent of events surveyed using them in some way and one in four entirely run by volunteers.

The independent research, which was commissioned by the Scottish Book Festival Network, found that more than half of attendees at events were 56 and over, while nearly two thirds were female.

Events for families, young people and school groups attracted 61,000 attendees.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival has moved to a new home at Edinburgh College of Art. Picture: Graham Armstrong

On average, just over half of book festival attendees were drawn from the local area where the event was held, while some festivals reported that more than a quarter of their audience came from outwith Scotland.

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Wigtown Book Festival director Adrian Turpin said: “Scotland’s book festivals are a cultural treasure.

“Their growth has been extraordinary and they’re a powerfully positive and much-loved part of our lives.

“During the pandemic many were able to pivot and deliver great events digitally and online – and they achieved a huge amount at a time when people were facing tremendous challenges.

"But it’s been a struggle for the festivals and they have endured a serious battering, not least

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through the huge loss in revenues.

“It’s clear they have an immense impact on Scotland’s culture and society, bringing hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, backgrounds and interests in contact with writers of every imaginable kind – firing imaginations, provoking discussion and strengthening the nation’s love of literature.

“World Book Day is the ideal moment to highlight what they have achieved and the need to rebuild after the pandemic – all the more true given that 2022 is Scotland’s Year of Stories.”

Poet and non-fiction writer Kathleen Jamie, who was appointed Scots Makar last year, said: “Sometimes you feel the world is going to hell in a handcart, but the growth of book festivals shows that reading and intelligence and debate are alive and well and happening at a local level.”

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Crime writer Val McDermid: “Writers spend most of their working lives alone with a screen.

"The great joy of festivals is the positive interaction with readers, with other writers and with industry professionals.”

Broadcaster and author Damian Barr said: “Each festival has its own character which reflects the area and the stories from and of there. I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad time as author or reader.”

Novelist Kirstin Innes said: “Scotland's book festival sector has had a huge and profound impact on my career as a writer.”