Publishing is one of the areas of work badly hit by the COVID-19 crisis –and Stornoway-based publishers Acair are not immune to the crisis gripping the industry.

The Gaelic publishing company Acair is planning to extend its online presence as part of a strategy to recover from a serious downturn in book sales during the Covid-19 crisis.

The pandemic has meant that the normal promotional opportunities, such as book launches and a presence at major Gaelic events such as The Royal National Mod have been put on hold.

The company, which received charitable status in 2017, has already cut staff working hours and is now reviewing all other costs, but the difficulties could mean that the existing staff of four might have to be reduced.

Seonag MacKinnon, who chairs the Acair Board of Directors,  said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a serious effect on the whole economy and Acair is no different. The company is small-scale compared with many other publishing companies, but it plays a hugely valuable role in publishing Gaelic books.”

She added: “Without Acair, it is also doubtful that the historically and culturally important account of the ‘Iolaire’ disaster, ‘The Darkest Dawn’, would have been published. As well as crucial funding from a range of funding bodies, Acair also depends on book sales, and sales have fallen dramatically over the past seven months.”

She said that although staff working hours had been reduced to lower costs, more drastic action was being considered. “Our staff is totally dedicated to the work and it is heart-breaking to be in a position that we are left with no alternative at this stage but to consult with staff members on reducing the four staff we have, to three,” she said.

She added: “We have been helped by the Government Furlough Scheme, but it was never going to be a substitute for normal trading conditions. We must make every effort to keep the company itself going, until the country and the economy recovers.”

With uncertainty about the end of the pandemic and the resumption of the usual promotional events, Acair is now looking to extend its online presence to reach existing and new customers through the internet.

Seonag MacKinnon said: “There still doesn’t seem to be an end in sight because restrictions can be placed on gatherings and other activities at any time if there are new outbreaks of the virus.

"We were planning to develop our website before the pandemic struck, and although this was delayed, we are keen to do this as quickly as we can.

"Online shopping in all sectors has increased and we feel there is an opportunity for the company to recover a substantial part of the market we have lost because of the restrictions.”