Reading the Future: Navigating the Australian Publishing Landscape

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Alison Rowe, one of the RMIT student organisers, reports on our most recent event.

‘Reading the Future: Navigating the Australian Publishing Landscape’ was the lively topic for discussion at the October Editors Victoria dinner meeting. The event, organised with a student committee from RMIT’s Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing, focused on the changing publishing environment and the habits of Australian readers, as reported in a study by Throsby, Zwar and Morgan that was released by Macquarie University in 2017.

The panel (L–R) Mark Rubbo, Jackie Tang, Barry Scott and Angela Meyer (Photo: Liz Steele)

The panel (L–R): Mark Rubbo, Jackie Tang, Barry Scott and Angela Meyer (Photo: Liz Steele)

The research was conducted over three stages and examines the major players in the industry: authors, publishers and readers. The third stage of the study was supported by the Australian Council of the Arts and, through its involvement, allowed a more in-depth look into readers’ preferences and behaviours. While this report doesn’t outline ‘how’ to engage readers, or anticipate their reading needs, it confirms that, as a country, we are still reading.

The report raises many questions for the Australian publishing and bookselling industry. In a world where news and information are immediate and available at the push of a button, how does the humble paperback stay relevant? How do we cater for tomorrow’s readers and respond to their changing needs? For instance, who could have predicted the trend for adult colouring books that dominated bestseller lists in 2015?

Three of the event management team (L–R) Carol Goudie, Jillian Langhammer and Alison Rowe (Photo: Liz Steele)

Three of the event management team (L–R): Carol Goudie, Jillian Langhammer and Alison Rowe (Photo: Liz Steele)

The student committee of Jillian Langhammer, Elise Hassett, Carol Goudie and Alison Rowe organised four industry professionals, with varied and extensive experience, to discuss some of the important questions raised in this report: Mark Rubbo, managing director of Readings; Barry Scott, publisher at Transit Lounge; Jackie Tang, editor with Books+Publishing; and panel moderator Angela Meyer from Bonnier Publishing.

Barry Scott discussed the willingness of the small presses to take risks with their publishing choices and ‘the importance of design for sales and in engaging readers’. Mark Rubbo revealed the precarious nature of bookselling as the difference between closing down and staying viable in the current industry can depend on ‘a two to three per cent decrease in sales’.

Jackie Tang and Angela Meyer discussed the millennial generation and how to engage them as readers. Jackie stressed the importance of the current generation requiring more than just ‘books on avocado toast’ and suggested that they need books that feel ‘targeted to them personally’ rather than to a broad audience.

(L–R) Editors Victoria Event Officer Sally McInnes with student members Jo Burnell and Ara Sarafian (Photo: Liz Steele)

(L–R) Editors Victoria Events Officer Sally McInnes with Jo Burnell and Ara Sarafian (Photo: Liz Steele)

The audience were given an opportunity to ask questions, and the topics ranged from how the bookselling industry can combat the rise of the ebook, to how magazines can stay relevant in a digital age.

The students who organised the event are part of a course, 'Inside the Industry', which focuses on creating opportunities for networking in the publishing industry and professional development, and on developing students’ event management skills. This is the third event organised in association with Editors Victoria.