Saturday, March 28, 2009

buying versus borrowing

It is interesting that the books that sell are not the ones that are voted the most popular in the library. 

On reflection: a vote is an expression of what people think they should read rather than what they're actually reading. I wonder what the bestsellers list would be for books set in Victoria or written by Victorians.

I was really pleased to see Vulgar Press's Radical Melbourne on the list.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Territorial copyright - a little more commentary

The key for me in the territorial copyright debate that is before the Productivity Commission at the moment is not that we defend the right of publishers to publish foreign editions here, though that's a natural corollary of a defence of territorial copyright. The key is a defence of the copyrights of Australian authors (and publishers). 

We should be worried about the rights and the income of the Carole Wilkinsons, the Morris Gleitzmans, the Terry Dentons and the Tim Wintons, worried about the significant risk of foreign editions of their works being brought back into this country and sold off cheaply, circumstances where they receive a reduced or no royalty. 

Authors, even famous and successful ones, earn little enough as it is, without their incomes being eroded to possibly and only possibly exert a vague "downward pressure" on prices. An open market or near open market will be a disincentive for Australian authors to write - fewer books will be written, fewer people will succeed as Australian authors, and fewer Australian books will be published by Australian publishers. 

The better author's incomes are the better the quality of work they produce - because of the time they will be able to devote to it. 

Heny Rosenboom on territorial copyright (aka parallel importation)

This is worth a read. Henry is as lucid and as expressive as he always is.

And for those us like me who were no chop as mathematicians as school here's an explanation of the phrase "to square the circle":

"(Math.) to determine the exact contents of a circle in square measure. The solution is now generally admitted  to be impossible." Sir W. Scott. 
And here's a link for further elucidation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The PC ignores children's authors and publishers

The Productivity Commissions draft report is much on very much on the mind of every publisher. Mine too. 

One of my annoyances when I read the discussion draft is that the Commissioners have chosen to ignore children's books. As far as I know they spoke to no children's publisher and where the publisher had a children's division they didn't explicitly speak to them about children's books. 

I'm including literacy materials in the context of children's books here.

Certainly I've not heard of any of the independent specialist children's publishers being spoken to. Neither Rod Martin, Rod Hare, Jill Morris, Jane Covernton or Dyan Blacklock have been approached. I haven't been approached either. So a thriving and  innovative sector of the industry has been completely ignored. And it's an area where the independent publishers bring an enormous amount of creative added value.

And I don't know of any children's authors who were spoken to by the Commissioners. The primary literacy area supports an enormous number of authors. Some of who have continued to write fantastic readers and others who have gone on to write trade and even adult trade books. It's an incubator for authors. It's a vibrant, active, enthusiastic and often overlooked community of authors. And many of them made submissions - which the Commission chose to ignore.

It is an area that under an open market or under the 12 month rule will be squeezed, maybe hobbled, maybe destroyed. Being an independent children's publisher, whether in the education sector or the trade sector (and in children's books they overlap), is tough. Margins are tighter than in adult books because the prices are lower. Reading programs require a high investment up front, which means the publisher needs a global market and a long life for the books to get a return on the investment (to invest in new books). 

Much of the innovation in this sector, of course, comes from the independents. The success of independent primary readers was pioneered by independents like Wendy Pye and Sue Donovan. The PM Readers were originally published by Price Milburn, and Cengage then took them to an international success. So while the mulitnationals have been successful in this area they've depended on the pioneering work of the independents.

The success of selling our independent readers and literacy material leaves children's publishers vulnerable if we then open our own market (which is, even with the 12 month rule, what the PC is proposing). Literacy materials reach markets that trade publishers don't and it has the ability to manipulate and clear stock of books very quickly, to see a profit in sending books back into Australia and capitalize on it. 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

growth but not in NSW

It is interesting to see that according to NSW government figures (Figure 8) the number of publishing businesses in NSW has declined but the number has increased in Australia as a whole

writers (and publishers) as sharecroppers

I like Andrew Brown's image of writers (and publishers) becoming sharecroppers for Google. It's an interesting analogy to play with.

The same could be said about iTunes/Apple - and musicians and music labels as well for audio books and ebooks Whether the owners of the channels become the new kings. There are plenty of choices out there of channel, but do the consumers want that much choice. Or like Google's dominance of search engines do they want an easy aggregated choice the works well in most circumstances. 

Are writers really sharecroppers for publishers anyhow? Are they exchanging one master for another. (I'd argue vehemently that the key role of the publisher is not distribution or marketing but adding or creating value through the working with authors in the editorial and book-design process and then building a brand through what they publish so readers come to the publisher confident of what they are going to buy - and come back to buy again. Old-fashioned maybe.) 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Productivity Commission interim report on territorial copyright

The Productivity Commission has release a discussion draft, which makes the ridiculous suggestion of territorial copyright protection for only 12 months from the date of first publication of a book in Australia.  It's a messy suggestion that implies that it is change for the sake of change. 

The 12-month idea doesn't recognize that it takes time to build an author or a book. It allows protection from importation when there is no risk of a book being imported. In most cases it is most unlikely for a book to have already been sold overseas by the time of first publication in Australia. For children's books (not something the Commission focussed on), overseas publishers want to see a track record here first before they purchase the rights. But when the book is a success the publisher and author have by then already lost the protection of territorial copyright, and aren't rewarded for the success.

This will make the mid-list, which is already under a lot of pressure, vanish. And the book market will come to be dominated by fewer and fewer "big-name" authors who will sell more, as they grow older. We will see fewer new Australian authors in bookshops, and fewer in turn will succeed. The next generation of truly successful authors (who earn as much as, say, an average football player) would have been coming from that now extinct mid-list.

One reason for the demise of the mid-list is that many of the large publishers/distributors don't hold stock in their warehouses for any period of time. A book either works immediately - or it doesn't. Setting a 12-month window will exacerbate this effect.

I don't think we can under-estimate the importance of books in reflecting, creating and securing an Australian culture. 

Our sense of ourselves is already being eroded by the rising waters of globalization. Soon we won't have a voice to take to the world unless there is a sense in our community that we have a voice we're prepared to defend. In time (under the 12 month rule) we will have less of a sense of ourselves and of our culture, and of our uniqueness. We're becoming pale versions of Americans (and the Americans do such an admirable job of celebrating themselves and their culture), and if the 12-month proposal gets up we've made another step along that path.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

designer to film

Paramount are doing a film (with Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman attached) of the  "Important Artifacts … ( and long fashionable title follows)" by Leanne Shapton. The book is a faux catalogue of the auction that follows a couple's breakup. Leanne is a book designer. What a concept for a book!

and a intriguing interview with Leanne Shapton on YouTube

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thompson and Shakespeare

We had an entertaining publicity meeting with Tony Thompson (Shakespeare: The Most Famous Man in London, May release . Tony's blog is to start soon, and Tony is never short of an opinion so it will make entertaining reading on Shakespeare and topics literary. 

And here are some interesting Shakespeare links we've come up with:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Scattheart reviews

There are some lovely reviews of Lili Wilkinson's Scatterheart on Amazon UK (following on from the gorgeous quotes from Waterstone's booksellers, which I'll put here in a little while. This a story that resonates with the British.

the reality v the idea of being published

It's frustrating sometimes that there is the reality of  publishing and then there's the idea of what publishing should be about that many authors, especially first time authors, hold. And there can be quite a gap. The myth of publishing is often much stronger than anything we can say about what the process is really going to be like.

In my publishing world: some good books fail and some bad books succeed, and there is never a guarantee of success. Critical successes are sometimes best-sellers and sometime not. Hard work helps, but success strikes at surprising times. Publishing is illogical and strange, and like any business, it involves risk, and risk management, which is one of the thing that makes an exciting business to be in. It's certainly not "fair".


I see Fishpond claiming to be Australia's biggest online bookstore. Some other bookstores might argue with the "biggest"; and they are based in Auckland but that's maybe suitable payback for Australian publishers always wanting ANZ rights for books they buy. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Shakespeare quote

I'm really thrilled that John Bell (of Bell Shakespeare Company fame) has given us a quote for the cover of Tony Thompson's  "Shakespeare: the Most Famous Man in London". Editor Melissa wouldn't let John get away and landed a beautify handwritten letter with the quote: "This is an exciting read that takes us straight to the heart of Shakespeare's life and times. It gives his plays and illuminating context."

Many thanks, John.

"Shakespeare: The Most Famous Man in London" (ISBN 978-1-74203-070-8) is a May release, $18.99 RRP and it is part of the Drum series.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

online is big

Everything online is the biggest or the best or the largest or at least the top:

"the top independent eBook seller in the world"
"Australia's largest book store"
"Australia's Biggest Online Bookstore" - note the use of capitals
"The world's leading source of ebooks"

and so it goes on …

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Dinosaur designs

… have a good strong green statement with plenty of detail and they make lovely jewellery (Maryann is a fan). One Planet have an interesting statement with less detail but plenty of authenticity. 

(PS We offset the personal and business use of our cars.)

paper impact

As publishers our major impact on the environment is the paper we use in books. We're a comparatively small user of paper though - much more is used in photocopiers and and much much more in disposable catalogues (which are "recyclable" as is noted cheekily on the covers of most). Still that's not an excuse and we reckon at black dog we need to use paper responsibly so we're working to coming to an understanding of how the paper we use impacts on the environment. 

It would be easy to make a bromide green statement on our website but we've held off doing that till we can say something that has some content. At the moment we're exploring our paper options among other things. (We do do all the usual things around the office: green electricity, turning lights off when not needed, recycling paper, printing double sided where appropriate etc.)

 All the paper we use with Australian printers is from sustainable sources and where possible is PEFC and FSC certified and we endeavour to print on FSC papers when we print overseas.

The main impact that paper has is though the trees cut down for conversion into paper, the water consumed in making paper and the chemicals released in the production of the paper (which can be quite nasty).

Here are some useful links:

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Wind from a bestseller

It's interesting to see Alex Duval's books in the Nielsen children's top 10 - two titles!. They're being pick up in Stephanie Meyer's tailwind.

Monday, March 02, 2009

territorial copyright

If you want to argue that territorial copyright is protectionist (as some commentators are) then you're arguing that copyright is protectionist ( which I guess it is - like any property law).