Tuesday, December 19, 2006
The rumours are flowing around about a connection between Angus & Robertson Whitcoulls and and US bookselling giant, Barnes & Noble. Staff from Australia and New Zealand's largest bookshop chain have apparently been on a 'study tour' in the US partly hosted by B&N. If one is to believe the share market bloggers, the US chain is apparently ripe for a leveraged buyout by private equity, just as ARW was in July 2005, when it was purchased by Pacific Equity Partners. All this means nothing, of course. For the moment, all the two chains have in common is their ampersand.
‘Why should authors get any more than other people with hobbies like sport or music or painting?’ I expect Penguin publishing supremo Bob Sessions may not be the most popular publisher with members of the Australian Society of Authors, following this masterful attempt to hose down their earning expectations in the December 2006 issue of Australian Author. Bob’s remarks certainly seem to have exasperated the writer who interviewed him. Dawn Cohen ended her article canvassing collective bargaining by authors, and even trying to persuade fellow ‘hobbyist’ (and Penguin author) Bryce Courtenay to down tools in support of his impecunious peers.
Credit where credit is due. I had a gentle tease of a certain NSW library supplier a few months ago for promoting things other than books as gift ideas in their Father’s Day newsletter. You can imagine my expectations were high on receiving their Christmas newsletter. Here are the heartening opening words: ‘A book. The perfect Christmas gift for those you know and love ... and for those you don’t really know all that well and maybe aren’t that fond of.’ And they even focused on Australian authors too. Now, that’s more like it! I can also recommend their seasonal recipe for summer pudding, although I’ve found it can be improved upon with the addition of a little brandy or rum (but best not tell the librarians).
I note another industry identity has joined myself and Black Dog Books’ Andrew Kelly in the blog-ocracy. Henry Rosenbloom has always been one with a keen turn of phrase, and now we can enjoy his well-chosen words on the recently re-vamped Scribe website (haven’t revamped your own website recently? Shame on you!). Henry, who describes himself as a ‘deracinated Jewish atheist,’ admits to mixed feelings about the trade’s reliance on the Christmas selling period. ‘Any publisher who releases a serious book between November and December is likely to regret the decision,’ he notes. ‘The seasonal avalanche of celebrity bios, blockbusters, brand-name authors, summer reads, and sports books crushes everything in its path.’ This didn’t stop Scribe releasing Inside the Global Jihad in November, I note.
I hear Pearson Australia CEO Peter Field, who has now left Australia to run Penguin UK, received a right royal send-off from his board. They went to Donovan’s in Melbourne’s trendy beachside suburb of St Kilda for a nice farewell lunch. What started as a lunch, however, soon progressed into afternoon drinks and then … dinner! The staff at Donovan’s must have been relieved when the final stragglers left late into the evening. Who says the long lunch is dead? Bon voyage, Peter.
You would think that having a book exposed in the New York Times as hoax on the eve of Frankfurt would put paid to any rights deals. Not in the case of Rohan Kriwaczek’s An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin. Seemingly an innocent and well-researched work of scholarship about a particular musical tradition born in the Middle Ages, the book is handicapped by one small detail— apparently there’s no such thing as the art of the funerary violin! Such a minor detail didn’t discourage Scribe Publication’s acquisitive Henry Rosenbloom from snapping up this eccentric work from its UK publisher, Gerald Duckworth & Co. It was a book, Rosenbloom enthused, that showed ‘how elusive facts and truth are … if it’s a hoax, it’s a brilliant, brilliant hoax.’ The book’s eccentric author is doing his best to muddy the waters further. In response to questions relating to the book’s authenticity from concerned Duckworth publisher, Peter Mayer, he apparently said: ‘Some [questions] I can’t answer, Mr Mayer, because it is a secret society and it is dying out.’
Talking of rights trading, here’s a heart-warming tale of perseverance rewarded. Back in 1982, Paul Collins of ‘Quentaris Chronicles’ fame wrote two kids’ books, The Wizard’s Torment and The Earthborn. Both were bought by a publisher called Parteach. ‘I received contracts (still have them!) and then nothing,’ Paul tells me. A year went by and Collins discovered the publisher had disappeared, so he sent the novels around to other publishers, but no-one wanted them. It was ten years before Cathie Tasker at HarperCollins took on The Wizard’s Torment, then another ten years before Tor in the US picked up The Earthborn. They then published the sequel, The Skyborn. The Hiveborn, third and final in ‘The Earthborn Wars’ trilogy, finally came out last month from Bohemian Ink. ‘Twenty years in the making, and the books have received my best reviews,’ says Collins. The moral of his story? ‘Persistence often wins through.’
Karl Dickmann has been putting the Australian stand at Frankfurt together for 27 years. He’s the ‘go to’ man for Aussies on set-up day, and not just because of his uncanny ability to produce tape, scissors, trolleys and other useful tools out of thin air. He has also been known to dispense refreshment. This year’s tipple came in a bottle with a label no-one could decipher but apparently the contents was sufficient strong to calm the nerves of even the most highly-strung rights manager. Dickmann identified the bottle as Yugoslavian fire-water purchased 26 years ago to celebrate the death of Marshall Tito. I hope it was worth the 26-year wait.
The battle over Peter Cosgrove has moved on to the retail marketplace, it would seem. First we had Random House gazumping HarperCollins with their own biography of the general, whose autobiography received a new subtitle (My Story) quick-smart, presumably to sort out any confusion among book buyers. Now we have Borders trying a little ambush marketing in the high street. In October A&R had a signing session in Pitt Street with Sir Peter. On the day of the signing Borders, which is two doors down (funny how often that seems to be the case with Borders’ stores, isn’t it?), stacked their window with the book and sold it (‘For today only!’) at $14.95—a hefty 70% off RRP. It dismayed a few booksellers, but I don’t imagine many consumers were complaining.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
The promotional ‘book video’ is apparently de rigueur overseas but it looks like Pan Macmillan can claim to be the first Australian publisher to produce one—for Richard Flanagan’s An Unknown Terrorist. Those who have seen the slightly saucy video may know that it was partly filmed in a Hobart men’s club. I wonder how PanMac will justify that expenditure to the ATO. Time for some creative accounting, perhaps …
My friends at Nielsen BookScan have some news for those canny publishers I referred to recently who were trying to skew the BookScan figures by only holding book launches in stores that supply sales data to the retail survey. The message is: nice try, but it doesn’t work. Apparently, BookScan casts its beady eye over any sales blips and makes appropriate enquiries with the bookshop concerned before deciding whether to add them to the overall survey. Ah well, back to the drawing board …