Monday, November 19, 2007

Low pay working at the book-face

One must feel sorry for those working in the UK book industry. Such is the penury in which most of them exist, they have created a group on the Facebook website called 'I work in publishing and I'm underpaid.' When I looked last month, there were nearly 800 members of this forlorn group, huddling together online for virtual warmth. How they must envy us here in Australia. No wonder so many of them come and work here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Choking on SPAM

While my days of resisting the internet would appear to be over now that I have an online blog, I'm still maintaining the rage about the ever-increasing avalanche of email, the sole function of which appears to be to prevent me from doing any productive work, or conducting meaningful communication. A well-known Sydney literary agent is clearly on my side. She has announced that her Fridays will be email-free from now on, and that if publishers and authors want to contact her then, they should pick up the phone. It's such a good idea, I'm going to follow suit. Imagine the things I could get done if I didn't have to personally respond to all those Nigerians offering to send me illicit funds. You know, I could even read a book. Remember them?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Iraq for Dummies?

Following the heat the Footscray-based travel publisher has received for publishing a guide to sunny Afghanistan, a recent BBC documentary aired in the UK has revealed that the Lonely Planet guide to Iraq was one of the resources used to plan and execute the 1990 invasion of that country. Yet another sign of military incompetence, or a shameless plug for the BBC’s latest asset?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Frankfurt tale

I hear Louise Adler of Melbourne University Publishing tells a story of how a publisher stopped for a rest on her stand last year at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and they got talking. They had no books in common, but he suggested she go and look at a book by a French author that might be of interest. Twelve months later, Michel Onfray’s The Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam has been published in Australia to significant acclaim, with the author attending this year’s Sydney Writers Festival. It just goes to show: if a stranger pops by your stand, you should be friendly!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Still a lucky country in educational publishing

With all the changes currently going on in educational publishing, and the accompanying gloomy predictions for its future health, one could be forgiven for thinking the writing is on the wall. Sometimes you need to look over your neighbour's fence to be aware of just how lucky you actually are. Dudley Schroeder, executive director of the South African Publishers Association, gave some interesting statistics at a presentation at the Frankfurt Book Fair. In South Africa, there are about 25,000 schools. Only 7% of schools have a library. Four thousand have no electricity, while fifty percent of South African households have no books at all. Yet, Schroeder was very optimistic about the future of his industry, saying there was 'a real place for the educational publisher.'

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lost in transition

It's a publisher's worst nightmare - you arrive at Frankfurt with a list of appointments a mile long, and your samples haven't arrived. One major Sydney trade publisher had to put on a very brave face after their books failed to arrive on time this year. Staff briefed, customers ready to buy, the fair opening for business and ... an empty stand. After many no doubt frantic phone calls, the books finally turned up, thank goodness, halfway through day one, so only half a day's business was lost. The fate of the particular courier isn't known, but it's probably safe to assume they will be a little less busy next year.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The worm has (re)turned

The general election has even reached the world of children's books. Inspired by the recent Howard vs Rudd TV debate and the infamous Channel Nine worm controversy, Kate Colley at Bloomin' Books in Sydney decided to have her own worm-themed window display. I have to say, I never knew there were so many vermicular tomes around. I expect Kate had to cast around a fair bit to find them all.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A pair of Crocs

Experienced Frankfurt attendess will always tell you that stout footwear is essential for walking the book fair's endless aisles. Two attendees at the Australian aisle party last week were clearly taking this advice very seriously indeed, if this picture is anything to go by. The shoes in question are, I'm advised by my youthful nephew, called Crocs. According to their manufacturer, they are 'a lightweight, comfortable, slip-resistant, fashionable and functional shoe.' Let's not forget colourful too. No doubt we can expect to see more Crocs at Frankfurt in years to come. In the meantime, why not guess which Melbourne-based independent these particular Crocs were representing. A bottle of passable red to the first correct answer pulled out of the hat.

Trump this

Clearly Donald Trump doesn't believe that free publicity is the best publicity. The New York Times has revealed that the snaking queue at a recent signing of his new book at a Barnes & Noble store in New York only existed because people were paid a total of US$30,000 to stand in it. According to an ad placed the previous day, the first 100 people were promised US$100, the next $200 received US$50, and the budget stretched to a further US$10 for the next 1000 people.

Apparently, quite a few Trump 'fans' ran off once they'd received their cash, foregoing the oportunity to meet the great man and buy his book. Time is money, after all.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Books for APEC leaders

It seems sometimes only a book will do. The lost business caused by the recent APEC meeting clearly made quite a few of Sydney's CBD booksellers grumpy, but ironically the APEC leaders seemed intent on promoting books. Kevin Rudd gave George W Bush a copy of David Day's John Curtin: A Life, while Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made Kinokuniya's day by buying up most of their nonfiction section including, encouragingly, Helen Caldicott's Nuclear Power is not the Answer. After their hilarious celebrity catalogue, no doubt the entreprenuerial Steve Jones and his team are even now working on a 'recommend reads for APEC leaders' catalogue for next year's meeting, to be held in Darkest Peru.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Controversy proves a hit

Due to international publicity surrounding a certain Sydney book distributor in August, I hear hits to their website jumped from 1,000 to 11,000 in just a few days. The inundation of public interest - which flowed on to their publisher clients' websites as well - overwhelmed their servers, forcing them to spend extra money on upgrading their site. As far as I know, there are no plans to recoup the unforeseen costs by invoicing a certain national bookselling chain ...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Anyone for tennis?

David Cohen has a special attachment to ISBN 978-1-876044-55-8. After processing many thousands of ISBN numbers as a worker in the ISBN Agency, Cohen was recently finally able to allocate one to a book of his own - a comic novel entitled Fear of Tennis (Black Pepper). Rarely have 13 digits held such fascination, I'm sure. The novel, launched at Readings Carlton last month, examines that particularly Australian phenomennon: the impossibility of avoiding sport. I should have known it was only a matter of time before the ISBN Agency decided to cut out the middle man and produce books itself.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A dangerous precedent

That Dangerous Book for Boys really started something, didn't it? Scarcely a week seems to go past without some copy-cat appearing, making it the Eats, Shoots and Leaves of recent times. I note some hopeful US agent recently even posted a proposal for The Dangerous Book for Dogs on the Publishers Marketplace website. Perhaps someone could wake me when the danger's over.

A party plan

Publishing and parties go hand-in-hand. Indeed, the image of the smiling, rosy-cheeked publishing type holding their glass of passable red aloft is such an industry cliche that such images were actually banned for several years from the pages of this journal. While parties lubricate the publishing process, I've not heard of a publisher entirely financed by parties until now. The publisher concerned is avant garde publisher Is Not Magazine, which publishes its quarterly magazine as a giant poster, pasted up in public spaces in Melbourne and Sydney. With no advertising revenue, and no retail price, the publisher generates the vast majority of its income by running extravagant parties. The events are such a hit with the party-going set, editor Penny Modra told a Melbourne Writers Festival session recently, that 'many regular party-goers have absolutely no idea we publish anything at all.'

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sexy bookseller a conference drawcard

'I can't believe I get to sit next to Melbourne's Sexist Man!' whooped an excited female attendee of the New Zealand book industry awards in Auckland last month. I hear a couple of visiting male Melbourne publishers puffed out their chests on overhearing the lady's exclamation. Alas, she was referring not to them, but to a bookseller: namely, that charismatic young man, Mark Rubbo of Readings, who has had to wear that particular monicker since an article in the Age back in 2004. It seems Booksellers NZ just happened to drop this piece of information into its publicity material to help attract delegates to the conference. It must have worked: I hear the dinner was a sell-out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The White Rose of Lindfield

Still on the unkillable wizard, I’m told that this seventh and final book was ‘good for the indies as well as the biggies.’ I take that to mean that one didn’t need the ‘market leverage’ of a national retail conglomerate to sell a decent number of books at a decent price and have a jolly good time while you’re at it. As evidence, I was provided with this lovely photo of ‘Professor Snape’ Scott Whitmont, ‘Professor Sprout’ Toni Whitmont and ‘Professor Dumbledore’ Max Oliver of Sydney’s Lindfield Children’s Bookshop—and if you’re wondering where Scott’s trademark designer spectacles are, he tells me ‘After the fourth customer asked why I was dressed as Nana Mouskouri, I decided they had to go!’

Timely training opportunity

The energetic Dee Read, training officer at the APA, puts together a pretty good program of professional development events. One that caught my eye was her September seminar, 'Conflict Resolution: Think Win/Win,' presented by Eleanor Shakiba. Interestingly, the Melbourne session booked out almost immediately. Perhaps Dee sent an invitation to a certain Melbourne-based retailer ...

Friday, August 10, 2007

All bets are off

I'm sure my bookselling colleagues enjoyed selling the 'last' Harry Potter book back in July. Perhaps some of you have now had a chance to finish the book for yourselves. If we should worry for the poor booksellers who didn't make any money out of it all (what were we thinking to stock such an unprofitable line?) , then perhaps we should spare a thought for the poor bookmakers too. London bookmaker William Hill took a number of bets on how Harry Potter's fate would be resolved at the end of the seven-volume saga. When the book was published, three William Hill staffers were quickly despatched to read the book and determine the outcome of the wager. Sadly, they couldn't agree on whether Potter died or not.

'It was a fairly ambiguous ending, open to various interpretations, and so whatever way we settled the bets would have annoyed some people,' Rupert Adams, a William Hill spokesman, is quoted as saying by Bloomberg. 'So we paid out on all the bets.' The bookmaker paid out some $216,000 on the wager, its first on a book ending. If you're an interested punter, William Hill is already taking bets on there being an eighth HP book.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

110% the solution to A&R's predicament

I notice both the Sydney Morning Herald and Crikey have now posted online ARW Group Commercial Manager Charlie Rimmer's fast-becoming-legendary letter to the book retailer's 'unprofitable' suppliers (among which are some of the nation's finest book publishers). The ever-alert Australian Society of Authors has even called for a boycott of Angus & Robertson company stores. Some sympathy, please: it's not easy being squeezed between the demands of private equity and the heavy discounting of the DDS. I’ve been trying to think of a solution to A&R’s predicament and I think I’ve finally come up with something that won’t eat into the publishers’ margins. We have to make every book worth 110% of RRP. An extra 10% would keep everyone happy. Not only would this give A&R the 5% they seem to want to take anyway, but you could give the other 5% to the author and keep the ASA happy too. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Tip of the iceberg

When I was young girl working in my first bookshop, it was not unknown for a satisfied customer to tip me a shilling if they felt I'd been particularly helpful. A shop assistant's pay was even worse then than it is now, so we were always glad of a little extra. You can imagine the enormous sense of nostalgia I felt, therefore, when I recently discovered one large book retailer is reviving the practice. The retailer is asking publishers to tip its floor-walkers $1.25 to recommend a nominated book to their customers. What a great way to earn a little extra pocket money.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The secret to successful publishing

The learned heads of two small but successful independent publishers were locked in intense conversation in the pre-dessert mingle at the Australian Book Industry Awards this week.

'I wouldn't mind asking you some detailed questions about the financial side,' said one. 'Oh, there's no real secret to it,' said the other, 'just work yourself three times as hard as anyone you can afford to employ!'

There, the secret's out.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Brickbats to

Brickbats to the nitwits at who, at 8.28am on 20 July, decided to post an ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on their website, thereby ensuring that every killjoy in Australia potentially had the ammunition to spoil the experience of thousands of avid fans waiting to find out for themselves a day later. The fact that the ending was incorrect doesn't mitigate the crime. I suppose these are the same people who took delight in telling younger siblings there was no Father Christmas or Tooth Fairy.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Caught napping?

Fans of Japanese comics will be saddened to hear that publisher Asahi Sonorama is to close its doors and be absorbed into its parent, the Asahi Shimbun Company. The publisher of such celebrated titles as Night Parade of Spirits and Monsters and Crusher Joe (no, I hadn't heard of them either, but they're big in Japan) had, it seems, finally caused its parent company to run out of patience. Fair enough too, really, as Sonorama's president Mr. Takashi Iida freely admitted that business had been insolvent for at least 20 years! Indeed, Japanese Writers House suggests that Sonorama had been performing consistently - consistently badly, that is - since its founding in the 1970s and now has liabilities of 1.6 billion yen (just over A$15 million). You'd have to say they've been given every chance to make a go of it. Even so, it seems Sonorama may have continued into the future but for an HR crisis. 'With the aging of its employees over recent years, it became difficult to continue operations,' says Japanese Writers House. If only they hadn't taken all those afternoon naps. Talking of which, it's about time for mine now.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Warehouse of Secrets

Finally, the ADS warehouse in Tuggerah gets the recognition it deserves. No longer a mere distribution facility, it has been transformed quicker than you can say 'firm sale' into 'Harry Potter's Warehouse of Secrets ... where the final Harry Potter book will begin its magical journey across Australia into the hands of spellbound readers.' We have a couple of lyrical Fairfax journalists to thank for this alchemy. Thanks to them, readers of The Age now know that ADS has a 14,790-square-metre site, and that the books will be packed in boxes of 20 copies. It can only be a matter of time before Phill Knight starts receiving a deluge of CVs from logistics-smitten Muggles. Seriously, though, it's nice to see them get some well-deserved limelight.

Farewell to the Big Smoke

In times past, it has become common to warn Frankfurt visitors not to make appointments in the German halls after midday lest you risk early onset of emphysema. It seems smoking at Frankfurt has finally run out of puff, however, following the shattering news that the halls will be smoke-free this year. I expect this will be of particular concern to the model-thin, stilleto-healed European literary agents, who have somehow appeared to survive solely on smoke fumes and champagne in the LitAg centre in years gone by. I fear it may backfire, however, knowing how gregarious smokers tend to me. It wouldn't surprise me if industry power-smokers (and we have some of the best here in Australia) snap up even more of the hot deals while huddled in small groups outside the hall exits in between formal meetings. Just remember to take a scarf.

How can he live with himself?

Congratulations to Scribe and Penguin for accomplishing something truly historic, namely publishing a book of the same title about the same person on the same day at the same retail price, listed on the same invoice, packed by the same warehouse and delivered in the same box via the same courier. I speak, of course, of the two Kevin Rudd biographies. This huge coincidence has also led to the books appearing side-by-side in the same book reviews, and achieving almost identical media coverage, according to Thorpe-Bowker's Media Extra survey. And what about sales so far? Well, I think you might take an educated guess, dear reader.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Queer agenda

There's room for all sorts in our industry, thank goodness. The program for this month's Booksellers New Zealand conference in Auckland is a good case in point. It contains a session for 'Circle Users' - a group which one might think included almost all mankind (who doesn't use a circle at some stage of the day?). Circle users, I have now discovered, are actually those that use the Christchurch-based point-of-sale system of the same name. BNZ's program also features an 'Alternative Bindings Breakfast' for gay and lesbian members of the trade. I note the breakfast includes a 'compulsory AGM from 8.03 to 8.06am,' which suggests a very queer agenda indeed. The session also appears to be without a sponsor at present, but there's still time if you're interested.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Man Who Moved My Cheese Gets His Come-Uppance

I hear Andy Griffiths, much beloved by naughty children around the world, thoroughly entertained booksellers at their dinner at the ABA conference. Having asked them to vote on whether they’d prefer to be a pimple or a boil (I hear it was boils by a nose), he thought they were ready for the kind of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-style story seen in his inimitable children’s books. ‘You spot a desperate-looking customer in your self-help section,’ suggested Griffiths. ‘You go up to them and ask if you can help. They start crying and say, “My life is falling apart, I’ve lost my job, my spouse has left me, all my friends hate me, I find it hard to make even the simplest of decisions and I can’t stop eating, drinking, smoking, gambling and loving too much…and somebody keeps moving my [expletive deleted] cheese … can you help me?”’ Those booksellers who chose to recommend professional help to their forlorn customer were dismayed to discover they had made ‘the last in a long line of terrible bookselling decisions.’ Griffiths continued: ‘It is the last straw for your business. Your store goes bankrupt. Your spouse leaves you (even if you don’t have spouse), all your friends start hating you, you find it difficult to make even the simplest of decisions and you can’t stop eating, drinking, smoking, gambling, loving too much and you catch the [further expletive] who keeps moving your cheese and you strangle them to death with a stale cheese stringer. You are caught with the blood-soaked cheese-stringer in your hand, and then charged and sentenced to be hung by the neck until you are dead. You are hung by the neck until you are dead. YOU DIE.’ The majority of diners (perhaps wisely) chose the alternative option: to steer the customer out of the self-help section and give them a copy of Griffiths’ own Zombie Bums from Uranus. Right answer! ‘All they really needed was a good laugh to get everything back into perspective … They come back and buy the entire Andy Griffiths backlist and, furthermore, are so impressed by your ability to put such a great book into their hands with such a vague description that they give you the maximum five-star rating on their very popular RATEYOURLOCALBOOKSELLER.COM website and your business explodes. You have to open a second store to cope with demand, and then a third and a fourth and then countless more until soon you win the Bookseller of the Year award and then find yourself spending your days on board your private yacht drinking martinis and actually reading books instead of selling them. Unfortunately, your yacht hits a reef and you capsize in the middle of the ocean. You cling to the hull of the boat, surrounded by circling sharks which you only manage to keep at bay by hitting them on the head with a soggy copy of The Secret until one day you look up and there’s a helicopter and it airlifts you to safety and your amazing story becomes the subject of a worldwide bidding war and eventually becomes a world wide best-selling book, making you a worldwide bestselling author …You buy a new yacht …and resume your life of leisure.’ Given Griffiths’ winning gifts for both mirth and self-promotion, I’m sure readers will look forward to the publication of his new book, Just Shocking!, in October.

A DAD, egad!

I received a flyer across my desk the other day which offered to explain ‘Why Every Publisher Needs a DAD.’ Of course they do, I thought, goes without saying, even in this digital age. The flyer then went on to explain that some publishers might want more than one DAD. I should have known it wouldn’t be so simple. A DAD isn’t someone you build go-karts with (à la Dangerous Book for Boys) or give birthday socks to with impunity, but rather a Digital Asset Distributor. Illuminatingly, the flyer explained that there was no consensus on what a DAD actually did, but it was something to do with doing what book distributors do now. Now you know. I put the flyer down when it got to the stage of asking whether publishers should become DADs themselves. Not a role I have to worry about. I shall stick to my knitting.

Diamond geezer

I hear Irishman John Mc Namee of the European Booksellers Federation enjoyed his visit to the Australian Booksellers Association conference. Having scared everyone with prophesies of store closures in the digital future, John admitted there was an area of modern bookselling which he just didn’t understand: manga comics. Fortunately, Diamond Book Distributors’ beatnik-coiffed Scott Hatfill came to his rescue by running a ‘Manga for dummies’ session at the conference. ‘Now I understand why I didn’t get manga,’ Mc Namee was heard to admit afterwards, ‘I was always reading the books from the wrong end!’

Taking the Mickey

I’ve always maintained that the best way to generate goodwill at the ABA conference is to put money behind the bar. This year the good people at Disney did the right thing. I hear any misgivings about accepting free drinks from a Mickey Mouse organisation were soon dispelled.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Blown spume

Talking of circling sharks, it has come to my attention that one of South Australia's leading booksellers—Bruce Macky of Dymocks Adelaide—is getting off the gym treadmill and heading for the open seas. He is off later this month for a year-long clipper race around the world (either business is very good, or diabolically bad!). His yacht will be armed with a global positioning system, so reps who want to try every last thing to boost those Christmas orders can locate him successfully. Bon voyage, Bruce.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Garrett's the good oil

In contrast to Brandis, the performance of the Shadow Arts Minister on the same program a week later was very refreshing. Peter Garrett (shadow minister for climate change, environment, heritage and [phew!]the ... arts) was clearly briefed on the issues, was able to speak passionately and with knowledge as a creator and copyright holder himself and made all the right noises about preserving ELR, abolishing the recent sedition laws, protection territorial copyright and even looking into annoying anomalies in the GST (although the GST on books is here to stay). If anything, he was slightly less 'bookish' than Brandis, but I suspect the industry will forgive him that if he delivers something more than the current incumbent. Given the complete absence of any measures for the industry in the recent Federal Budget, that probably won't be very hard.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

New 'Minister for Books'

If the performance last week of the new 'Minister for Books,' Senator George Brandis, on Radio National's 'Book Show' is anything to go by, it's unlikely books are going to get much attention in the lead-up to the next election. Brandis, actually Federal Minister for Arts and Sport (always a popular combination, that) was the guest of stand-in presenter Michael Gurr. Brandis has clearly been slow to get briefed on the book industry side of his portfolio since his February appointment, claiming that the annual ABS industry statistical survey was still going (Gurr politely informed him it wasn't), and identifying no particular measures his government was pursuing on the industry's behalf beyond the modest sums dispensed by the Australia Council. Still, he did mention he read books (his favourites are David Malouf's Johnno, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty and Robert Menzies' The Forgotten People) and said he bought books from Folio Books in Brisbane and Hill of Content in Melbourne. Perhaps the best that can be said about his performance, which was almost breathtaking in its blandness, was that he believed he didn't see a role for the government in regulating the industry. The government, he said, 'should keep their noses out of it.' That may be the best we can hope for.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Profiting from Guantanamo

What's wrong with this sentence?

'We're not trying to stop them from trying to sell their story, but we are saying you can't profit from it.' (Philip Ruddock)

Our beloved Attorney-General makes no attempt to explain why anyone, let alone a penniless, socially-marginalised, virtually unemployable convicted 'terrorist,' would want to sell anything except to make a profit. Perhaps he'll require David Hicks to provide a profit-and-loss statement on the writing of the book:

Advance against royalty: $500,000

Pen: $3.00
Paper: $20
4 years in Guantanamo Bay: Priceless

Friday, April 27, 2007

Expert tracker

I'm indebted to Peter Kirkpatrick, president of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature for finding this little gem on the HarperCollins website. Kirkpatrick was writing a piece for the excellent Australian Author on the changing fortunes of Australian literature when he thought he might search for Katherine Susannah Prichard's backlist online. Only one KSP book, Coonardo, remains in print but Kirkpatrick was most excited to see an invitation on the website to sign up for HC's AuthorTracker service. 'Want to receive notice of Katherine Pritchard's [sic]new books, tour dates, and promotions? Sign up now!' encouraged the website blurb. An author tour from KSP would truly be an event for the headlines given she died in 1969.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Chain reaction

With the Australian Book Industry Awards almost upon us, there has been much debate about the Chain Bookseller of the Year award. What constitutes a chain bookseller exactly? Last year, Melbourne's five-store independent group Readings scooped the award to the surprise of many and the bemusement of owner Mark Rubbo, whose business is usually a front-runner for Independent Bookseller of the Year. Clearly, it wasn't going to happen twice. The definition of 'chain' has now been changed to exclude Readings and other regional chains, and to ensure the award goes to one of those large national book retailers for which it was created in the first place. No doubt one of Borders, Angus & Robertson, Collins, Book City or Dymocks will be 'thrilled and surprised' when they win this year's award.

Dickens theme park

Satire died, according to Tom Lehrer, the day Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This is probably so, as the opening of the world's first Charles Dickens theme park at the end of this month could only happen in a post-satire world. That's right, dear reader, the author of Great Expectations and Bleak House now has his own theme park - Dickens World - in Kent, England. Cobbled streets, gas lamps, costumed actors and quaint Victorian shops have been combined with water rides, a children's play area called Fagin's Den, a 'Dickensian' shopping mall and a 'haunted' Scrooge's house to produce what the venue's website describes as 'A New Themed Entertainment Visitor Attraction Based Upon the Life, Times, Books and Characters of Charles Dickens, Our Most Famous and Enduring Author'. There's no mention of whether this $150 million monstrosity will have something as quaint and old-fashioned as Dickens' novels for sale. Will Australia be next? Bryce World can only be a developer's long lunch away from conception.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Crime and publishing

Time was when a nice little book deal could be relied on to bring comfort to a criminal or n'er-do-well in their retirement. No more. Now they can't be seen to profit from their misdemeanours, which rather puts a dampener on chequebook publishing and journalism and (dare I mention something so unfashionable) perhaps even freedom of speech. Not only does it mean we've probably seen the last of publishing phenomena like Chopper Read, but I hear the courts are now trying to get their hands on the $350,000 Pan Macmillan has paid to Schapelle Corby (but not, thankfully, the profit Pan Mac itself has made out of her book). My guess is the cash has already left the country, but they could always try checking the baggage at Sydney airport just in case.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Five Mile Press bjorn again

Introduced as a man dedicated to the principle of never using a piece of artwork only once, Five Mile Press's outgoing owner David Horgan was looking pretty pleased with himself last Friday night, according to my sources. Having sold off the company to Swedish giant Bonnier, his pockets are stuffed with kronor, and consequently he treated staff and friends to a big bash overlooking Melbourne's scenic Albert Park Lake. Aptly, Horgan was presented with a limited edition book about himself as he laid down the 'subtle' changes that will be implemented by the firm's new Swedish owners. As you can see from the attached photo, hair is now to be compulsorily blonde, all future company cars are to be Volvos, office furniture will be delivered flat-packed from Ikea, pickled herrings will be served in the staff lunchrooms, and the FMP boardroom is to be converted into a sauna so that meetings can be conducted either 'naked or wrapped in a fluffy white towel.' Also in keeping with a great Swedish tradition, there were a large number of sore heads the next morning, by all reports.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Librairies sans frontieres

So Borders is placing its knitting back in the box and putting its Australian stores up for sale, just as WHSmith did before them. While local publishers are no doubt very concerned that the 20-store chain is maintained in some form, I'm sure there are plenty of booksellers adjacent to Borders outlets who must be feeling like the inhabitants of the Earth at the end of H G Wells' War of the Worlds. There is some suggestion that a management buyout of the US chain's Australian stores may be a possibility, but perhaps just as likely Pacific Equity Partners (owners of Angus & Robertson) may jump in or perhaps Dymocks, given Borders has expressed an interest in franchising. One thing appears likely - for the moment, anyway. We can wave goodbye to that phenomenon so beloved by sales managers - the Borders' new store opening order.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Grid guys

A number of industry identities were spotted at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last weekend, including distributor Dennis Jones, Phil Walshe of Bolinda Audio and Pearson Australia's technology guru Peter Dart, who enjoyed the hospitality of Hewlett Packard. (I wonder if Dart has kept this quiet back at Penguin HQ. His colleague Bob Sessions was an early and vocal marcher against the race.) Phil Walshe seems to have got closest to the action. Visitors to his apartment overlooking the racetrack were surprised to discover a Channel Nine film crew using his balcony as a vantage point. That's one way of ensuring you appear on the evening news.

Friday, March 16, 2007

You Only Live Twice?

When my nephew asked if I had discovered the Second Life yet, I almost clocked him with my handbag. But it turns out he wasn’t being rude about my advanced age after all. Second Life is apparently the name of an alternative online world where people can live, make money, build houses and even attend concerts, not as themselves, but as self-created characters, or ‘avatars.’ Such is the popularity of this virtual world (four million people belong to it, with as many as 200,000 strolling its virtual streets at any one time), that businesses are starting to get involved. The main reason for this is that any intellectual property you create in this online world remains yours, and it’s an interesting way of market testing and even promoting your brands. Thus, Penguin UK already has a resident Second Life publisher, while a ‘live’ reading from a virtual Dean Koontz heralded the opening of a Second Life Bantam Dell bookshop last month (selling only Bantam Dell books, of course). I hear we may have our own Australian inhabitants in Second Life before too long. The (surely not cash-strapped) University of Queensland has apparently purchased (with real money!) some real estate in Second Life. I shall therefore look forward to greeting the avatar of a virtual Greg Bain on a virtual Second Life golf course before too long. Those of us who don’t have enough time to live our First Life can only marvel. Or despair.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Tale of Two Chains

No doubt we will have another round of insane discounting when we all go Harry Potty in July. It reminds me of a tale of two bookselling chains (whom I cannot name, of course) that I learned about recently. Like many good stories, it is set around Christmas time, and involved a bestelling book (which I also cannot name). You will be dumbstruck, dear reader, to discover that one chain was selling this book for substantially less than cost. The price was so good, in fact, that the head office of its competitor sent out a command to all its stores to go directly to branches of the first chain's stores and buy up all available stock of the title without delay. This was duly done. Then, the second chain's existing stock of the books was taken off the shelves, replaced with cheaper books and (and this is the really nice bit, I think), returned to the publisher. One can only imagine what all this skullduggery did to the BookScan figures. There's an even more interesting story about the creation of the book itself, which I would love to share with you but, alas, it may have to wait until the annals of this age are writ.

Books They Should Read

Booksellers' catalogues can tend to look the same, so it's nice to see someone trying something a little bit different. Steve Jones and his team at Kinokuniya in Sydney have produced a celebrity-driven Books They Should Read catalogue, which amusingly and somewhat wickedly exploits the nation's obsession with celebrities. They picked some well-known names, including John Howard, George Bush, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton (I can thank my occasional trips to the hairdresser for my acquaintance with the latter two) and creatively put together recommended reading lists for them. As good booksellers are so skilled at doing. Thus, among several recommendations, Bush was helpfully recommended Where's Bin Laden? and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Iraq, Howard got Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning, Spears was directed to Idiots in Love: Chronicles of Romantic Stupidity and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, while The Triumph of the Airheads was suggested for Hilton. My own favourites from the catalogue: Kinokuniya's suggestion that Victoria 'I've never read a book' Beckham might like to read her own Learning to Fly, and Coffee, Tea or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Hostesses for, you've guessed it, Ralph Fiennes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Putdownable books

Readers don't finish almost half of all books they buy, according to a Teletext survey of 4000 readers in the UK. This follows the revelation in my December 2005 column that a third of Brits bought books 'solely to look intelligent.' Now we know which books they are not finishing. Top of the unread fiction list was D B C Pierre's Booker winner, Vernon God Little, followed by what is probably the most famous unedited book of all time, J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and James Joyce's Ulysses (for which library binding has proved largely unnecessary). Big unfinished nonfiction titles included Bill Clinton's autobiography (a book, I was gratified to discover, I too have not finished), Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves and, tellingly, Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking. It made me wonder what 'putdownable' Australian and New Zealand titles might appear on a list done in this part of the world. I'd be glad to receive your nominations, dear readers. Just jot me a line to or, if that's too low-tech for you, place a comment on my blog.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

An un-conference?!

I hope you’ve booked your seat at the forthcoming ABA conference, which is not to be missed this year (I’m a bit past it now, but I’ve attended plenty of them in my time.) I was intrigued recently, however, to hear of a new concept – the unconference. The Yarra Plenty Regional Library has apparently just completed one. The idea (and it does seem rather attractive) is to embrace those parts of conferences that people actually enjoy, i.e. the drinkies, chatter and networking, and do away with dull presentations and keynote addresses. ‘An unconference is just that—a whole Powerpoint-free zone,’ library CEO Christine Mackenzie proudly told Australian Library News. ‘You don’t get talked at—you are part of the conversation … It took just 12 minutes to compile the program.’ Sounds like my kind of event. Now, could someone please invent an un-awards ceremony?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Shantaram sham

Would the publisher who is going to re-publish the bestseller Shantaram please stand up? The paperback edition of the novel is no longer available from its original publisher, Scribe, due to labyrinthine legal issues, but I hear it may still emanate from the same warehouse. However, no-one yet seems to be willing to go on the record and admit they are Gregory David Roberts’ new publisher. Why, I wonder.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Silence?

The publication date and recommend retail price of the new (and last - phew!) Harry Potter book was announced to the trade on 1 February, but most Australian booksellers and Potter fans would have read about it on 2 February. I thought it might be interesting to look at how booksellers' websites had made use of the information one week later, on 9 February. With a little help from my young nephew, I had a quick 'surf' to find out. Dymocks was inviting customers to register by email to place pre-orders but had no price, A&R's website had the date and was directing customers to pre-order from their local A&R store again with no price, while Borders' site had the date but no price and was asking people to sign up for their 'owl post' news update. Readings and Mary Ryan had the pub date but not the price, while Sydney's Better Dead Than Read had the date and price. None of these three were encouraging orders. Surprisingly, online bookseller Booktopia had no information on the book at all, nor did any of the discount or department store websites (less surprising). So was anyone selling the book? Well, yes. You could order at $44.96 on Boomerang Books's site while those sites powered by Seek Books were selling at full price, as was Collins' website and that of the book's Australian distributor, Allen & Unwin. Australia's favourite bookselling website was taking orders of the US edition at US$18.89 ($24.18) + US$11.98 ($15.35) postage, making its $39.53 total the best deal on the web after week one. There's a long way to go, of course. Still, the variety of messages directed to the consumer is quite fascinating, given that I expect 99% of Potter fans now know the date and price for themselves.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Hachette gives Europe to UK

The latest salvo has been fired in the territorial battle between the US and UK over who gets to sell their books in Europe (one would have thought the Europeans may wish to choose but surprisingly no-one seems to be asking them). In an act vividly described by one irate European distributor as 'an unheard of act of self-castration,' global behemoth Hachette has decided that its UK subsidiary will supply European booksellers, which means Hachette's US books must be supplied out of the UK. Interestingly, HarperCollins' Brian Murray (whom many readers will recall used to head HC's Australian operation) is taking the contrary view. 'When HarperCollins controls world rights and there are US and UK editions available, we offer both editions to readers in the EU,' he told Publishers Weekly, 'because we believe it is in the best interest of our authors and our customers to do so.' Elementary logic would suggest Hachette and HC can't both be right. There's a certain irony about all this, isn't there? The very market forces that have driven the internationalisation of the book trade and the rise of the global giants is tugging at the fabric of our industry's rather cosy territorial copyright arrangements. It will be interesting to see how long we can continue to have our cake and eat it too. Meanwhile, across the Tasman in the 'open market' of New Zealand, the sky has not fallen in. It seems, miraculously, that booksellers base their decisions on who they buy from based on service, price, product quality and range rather than what where the supplier's warehouse is. Why would anyone see value in denying them that right?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hanson's not-so-secret publisher

Interesting to read Pauline Hanson being coy about the title and publisher of her autobiography, due for release on 29 March. Hard-working News Limited and AAP journalists were clearly content to leave it a mystery in their coverage of her remarks. A pity, because a simple Google search would have found the full details of the book, including its cover, on the Pan Macmillan website. PanMac's distribution arm MDS are distributing the book on behalf of small independent Melbourne publisher JoJo Publishing, and a lot of booksellers have already placed their orders. JoJo also features the book, poetically entitled Untamed and Unashamed, prominently on its own website. My journalist friends might even like to take advantage of the website's special pre-publication offer for a signed copy of the book. Perhaps Hanson and the media enjoy their merry little dances so much neither wanted facts to get in the way of a good story.