I read with interest Michael Heyward's article "Word wise, book poor" in Saturday's Age. It was a spacious and fascinatng review of the state publishing in this country. I found much I agreed with and quite a bit I disagreed with - a sharp and enjoyable stimulus to thought.
First it pips me off that independent children's publishing get so little recognition both in the broader community (including festivals), within government, and even within our own independent publishing community. Michael doesn't include children's publishing in the para "Independent publishing shows signs of life…" (I'd like to see a Books Alive for children's books - start kids reading, keep them reading in the teen years and you build a community of "cuirious habitual readers".)
I agree its a good time for independent publishing, that it was a tragedy that the stylish McPhee Gribble folded into Penguin (they did blaze an amazing path), and that branch-plant publishing slowed the development of publishing infrastructure (but has enable the independents to access excellent distribution).
The economy is chuffing along and the independent publishers seem to be doing quite nicely in its wake. Times are golden for books. $2.5billion at the till, bigger than film ($867 million at the till of which only $40 million was for Australian films) and recorded music combined. The comparison Michael makes between Nobel-prize winning Patrick White selling 30,000 copies in 1973 and Kate Grenville selling more than 100,000 copies of The Secret River is a sign of how far we have come. And we need more astute, quick-witted publishers like Michael, Henry Rosenbloom and Rod Hare both within and without the corporate walls.
I'm not convinced of the necessarily beneficial effects of government spending though. I think the failure of our film industry is in part a result of its dependence on government funding. The need for government spending sent it on a downward sprial,;the dependence on a beauracratic decision-making process has worked against the quick-witted and the astute and favored the earnest. Govenment money is a two edged sword. I think PLR and ELR have been a huge success because they reflect people's choices.
I like Michael's suggestion of a national non-fiction prize; and what about government support for the CBCA awards?
If you missed the article, it is well working fishing the paper out of the recycling bin and having a read.