Publishing Now and America in Decline @MWF

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Three lucky members were able to attend a session at the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF), thanks to free tickets we could offer as a result of our sponsorship relationship with the MWF this year. Here they report back on what they saw.

Publishing Now, 3 September

Amanda Martin and Sharon Mullins both chose Publishing Now.

Healthy Outlook, Especially for Indies

Bright and early, coffee in hand, I joined a small crowd at the ‘Publishing Now’ session at MWF16, at which Peter Mews of the Brunswick Street Bookstore discussed the current state of the Australian trade publishing industry with Henry Rosenbloom (Scribe), Louise Ryan (Penguin Random House) and Cate Kennedy (author).

All agreed that Australian publishing is ‘fairly healthy’; we are somewhat cushioned out here and can, to a fair extent, do our own thing. Previous threats such as the digital disruption and the Red Group’s demise are no longer issues. Instead, social media and online ‘discoverability’ are providing new opportunities to promote our books as traditional print media opportunities decrease.

Australia has a thriving independent scene: indie publishers are winning the lion’s share of prizes and accolades, and our indie bookshops have the biggest market share in the world with 30% of book sales, compared with around 10% in the UK and 15% in the US.

We were assured that authors like Cate are no worse off if we purchase ebooks rather than physical books, with most publishers paying similar royalties for the different formats. However, Amazon is a genuine threat, and if it was to open a warehouse on our shores our currently thriving booksellers might indeed be in trouble.

In the meantime, the biggest concern facing our industry is the proposed changes to parallel importation laws.

I attended a number of terrific sessions at this year’s festival, and urge you all to consider attending next year.

Thanks to Editors Victoria for the complimentary pass.

Amanda Martin

Optimistic but Cautious

The future of publishing appears promising, according to this year’s panel on the subject at MWF. However, the proposed repeal of parallel importation restrictions is cause for caution.

Panellists were heartened by print book sales increasing over the past two years, while ebooks have plateaued at 20% of the market. Digital publishing technology has made small print runs viable, allowing publishers to invest in debut authors or experimental works, and writing courses and groups are raising the standard of writing. Independent booksellers are also playing a larger role, sharing the market equally with chains and discount department stores.

The reward shows in the number of Australian titles in local bestseller lists, but this success is threatened by the latest attempts to abolish parallel importation restrictions. Even booksellers are sceptical about benefits for consumers, given international freight costs. All agree it would diminish Australian publishing and decimate earnings for Australian writers.

Sharon Mullins

America in Decline, 29 August

George Packer, staff writer at The New Yorker and non-fiction and fiction author, was in conversation with Australian author and word-lover Don Watson.

With the combined intellectual power of Don Watson and George Packer, I was hoping to gain a deeper insight into the troubling decline of the United States from this talk. Instead, the first part of the discussion meandered over George Packer’s impressive career reporting from war zones and the characters of Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush. As a host, Don Watson was a little too introspective and unfocused to help George Parker engage well with the topic. However, when the talk did come to the decline of America and the rise of Trump, George did make the important point that ‘Trump was feeding off people who didn’t recognise their country’ and that America lets the market take care of people who lose jobs – a warning for Australia. While Parker made good points, the discussion lacked the depth to explain the scale of problems facing the US.

Pete Symons