Publishing Focus Part Two – Y Lolfa

Y Lolfa - Welsh PublisherY Lolfa translates directly from Welsh to English as “The Lounge”, and what better place in which to enjoy a compelling read? This small Aberystwyth-based publisher been doing something special since the mid-1960s, and is continuing to drive forward Welsh literature in new and exciting ways.
As part of our interview series featuring publishers all over the UK I spoke to Garmon Gruffudd, Director at Y Lolfa.
Hi Garmon – Thanks for taking the time to chat to Ribbonfish. Firstly, could you tell us a little about Y Lolfa?
Y Lolfa was established in the mid-sixties, an exciting period of fun and protest. The company acted as unofficial printers to the new, activist Welsh Language Society, while also producing its own irreverent brand of popular and political material, including the satirical magazine Lol (meaning ‘fun’ or ‘nonsense’), from which the company’s name was derived. The company evolved gradually, producing an ever widening range of popular books in both Welsh and English and by now Y Lolfa employs 20 full time staff including 5 editors and publishes around 80 books a year.
Would you say the publishing industry in Wales is in a healthy state?
No, if you compare Wales to Scotland or to independent states with similar or smaller populations. The publishing industry has developed in Wales since devolution and Welsh language fiction, for example, is thriving with some brilliant young authors such as Caryl Lewis, Manon Steffan Ros, Llwyd Owen and Dewi Prysor churning out world class contemporary novels. We are fortunate that there is core of some great Welsh language bookshops that have weathered the recent digital and financial storms.
And what are your thoughts on the industry in general?
I feel that the process of publishing books is getting easier with developments in technology. However, selling physical books in decent numbers is getting harder.
As a Welsh-focused publisher, how do you perform in the UK-wide and international markets?
Our core market is Wales. We do sell to the rest of Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and the US. Rugby referee Nigel Owen’s autobiography sold really well in all rugby playing nations before Christmas.
How important is it to keep Welsh literature alive in the modern world?
As with many other art forms a healthy literature scene reflects a healthy nation. Welsh speakers should have the option to live their lives entirely through Welsh, and to have a wide, relevant and varied choice of Welsh books to read is important in that respect.
Has Wales shaped you as an organisation in terms of culture, skills, or outlook?
The company was formed as a by-product of the Welsh awaking of the late 1960s. In many ways the company’s development and maturity has reflected what’s happened in Wales since. We hope that this is only the start of a journey towards full nationhood.
Do you think there is an opportunity for smaller publishers to challenge the big guys at the moment?
Yes, in many ways publishing is far more democratic than it used to be, and there are an abundance of opportunities out there. However, as a company, being a “big guy” isn’t an aim for us.
Would you say the Welsh government is a help or a hindrance to your ambitions?
The Welsh government is definitely more of a help than a hindrance to us however, the support to publishing in Wales in comparison to other nations and other creative sectors, is relatively small.
And finally, what advice would you give to startup publishers in today’s world?
Find a niche. Concentrate on what you’re good at and don’t lose focus.

Thanks to Garmon for speaking to us. If you want to know more about Y Lolfa, visit their website. If you’re a publisher doing things differently, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us on Twitter, or email us at [email protected]
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