Magazines in Wales

A New Future is Needed for Magazines in Wales

Wales Arts Review co-founder and executive editor Gary Raymond offers an answer to the dire funding model for English language magazines in Wales, and asks the Books Council of Wales to consider a new future for magazines in Wales.

Wales Arts Review, along with most of the other main magazines and websites with a cultural remit, is currently undergoing a process of reapplying for its core-funding from the Books Council of Wales, the organisation that administers the funds for both Welsh language and English language magazines in Wales. We go through this process every four years (although five years this time, because of Covid), and have done since our first successful application kicked in in 2015.

The landscape for the future of English language Welsh magazines is bleak, as we are being continuously reminded. Funding on offer for all English language magazines stands at £180,000 a year. (Welsh language magazines went through this process last year and had an equivalent pot of £379,164 – yes, you read that right – if you’d like to see more information on how the Books Council divvies up the money between languages, you can read more on page 29 of their Operational Plan 2022/23). That number for English language magazines hasn’t changed in five years, meaning there is a 24%-real-terms cut in money on offer due to inflation. The fact there is a cap on what a magazine may apply for from the English language pot, regardless of needs, means that there is little-to-no chance of being able to make up that shortfall, never mind research, develop and implement strategies for growth, innovation, and working toward relying less on the public purse.

A recent open letter composed by a group calling themselves Save Welsh Magazines rightly highlights that the financial poverty of the English language magazines sector has very real consequences, not least on the working conditions of staff members. There are legal implications to this, and the funding model also encourages and enforces a contradiction of the Welsh Government promise to create a country of healthy, progressive and fair working conditions for its citizens. Where the well-intentioned letter from Save Welsh Magazines falls flat, however, is in its rallying call for Welsh Government to properly fund the sector, to give all the existing worthy recipients the money they need. It is a call for better funding for the status quo. (If you believe there is the remotest possibility of this happening, may I interest you in a fifteen volume, two-million page historical novel I’ve recently finished writing titled How Admiral Nelson Got His Eye Back. I’m emailing it out at a very reasonable price).

What the Books Council of Wales is offering in its funding model is the gradual, painful decline of the English language cultural periodicals of Wales. That means that some radical, pragmatic thinking is required to counteract this turgid prospect.

And so, in the spirit of offering to get the ball rolling may I suggest two possible solutions. First – and not my preferred one – is that all magazines halt their application process and refuse to submit to the set of criteria on offer from the Books Council until the Books Council reviews the criteria and processes (the guidelines for applications for this funding round have not changed so much as a punctuation mark since 2018, apart from two added articles about ensuring diversity, inclusion and accessibility at every level of the applicant organisation).

If that solution doesn’t interest you, I have another: that that Books Council of Wales pauses the current process and hosts a conference of English language magazine editors and publishers where we discuss the formation of two major cultural periodicals to replace all the existing ones, the money for which would be split between the two from the pot of £180,000pa. In my experience, an excellent cultural magazine could be produced in Wales with the base funding of £90,000 a year. I would stipulate that from that money, at least 10% is invested in growth strategy, and at least 20% is ringfenced to be paid directly to contributing writers. Two magazines. Properly funded. In place of a roster of magazines on life support with little hope of anything on the horizon other than the big sleep.

Who knows what conversations, partnerships, and new ventures could come from such a conference. What exciting initiatives and new dawns could be birthed! Okay, so I have no doubt there would be arguments and disagreements and clashes of visions, politics, and personalities, but this isn’t an ancient religious war, this is Welsh magazine publishing. We can figure this out. But what we cannot do is go on with this level of funding administered in this way. If we were to come together, we could be on the verge of turning a bleak future for all into a bright and ravishing new era for Welsh cultural periodicals that could spark envy around the world. The choice, I suppose, is ours.


Gary Raymond is Executive Editor of Wales Arts Review, was a co-founder of it, and for ten years was its editor.