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. 


Aim said...

Andrew, I'm here and commenting. I think you make a very good point. Amy

Mike said...

Also, the brand name overseas authors, eg Snickett, Rowling, Meyer, etc, etc are in no way held back by the price of their books. The argument that people are kept from buying their work on price is just bunkum, and lacks foundation in facts. What we will more likely see is more importing of the often inferior US editions. That sort of second rate production is hardly likely to engender a love of reading.
The Productivity Commission are way off beam on this venture and are struggling to find any argument that will stand up to scrutiny. Michael Heyward, again, demolished the draft response in The Age.

Andrew's black dog blog said...

Mike, I absolutlely agree. Many books are price inelastic (if I've got the economist's term right), people either buy them or they don't. The decision is made on other criteria apart from price. And making them cheaper won't mean people will buy more books. If, of course, if that is, opening the market would have any impact on price anyhow.