Sunday, September 14, 2014

Melbourne Writers Festival - Independent Publishers Panel


Independent Publishing: Where Next? 

One of the free sessions I attended at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival was a discussion by three of Australia’s largest independent publishers about the current state and future of the publishing industry. The participants were Michael Heyward from Text, Chris Falk from Black Inc and Henry Rosenbloom from Scribe.

The discussion was moderated by Sophie Cunningham who is a writer, but was a publisher with Allen and Unwin for a decade. There seemed to be some underlying tension between Heyward and Rosenbloom. The session was conducted at the Wheeler Centre.

Scribe publishes about 60 books a year, mainly serious non-fiction. Text publishes about 80 books a year with half of them authored by Australians.  Forty people work for Text, seven of whom are editors. Black Inc is distributed by Penguin. 

One Successful Book 

The publishers stressed how one successful book can make all the difference to a publisher. The Rosie Project by Graham Simsion has been very good for Text. Allen and Unwin has been built on the back of Harry Potter whose profits were used to build a big Australian list. Text prospered from a book that Scribe rejected. 

Current State of the Market 

Sales are decreasing in Australia, for example, in the four weeks to mid-August 2012 sales were $26 million, in the same period in 2014 $18 million. Currently sales of 3,000 for a debut novelist is considered good very good. In previous years the average sales of a debut novel were 3,000 hardback and 5,000 paperback.

Over 20% of Scribes sales are ebooks, below 20% for Black Inc, 30% for Text. Ebook sales are not increasing as a percentage of sales at Text anymore. In the US and UK, ebook sales have plateaued as a percentage of book sales.


The UK Market 

Text and Scribe both publish in the UK market. They said that market is very bad because of Amazon. According to them Amazon have about 70% of the book market in the UK. They said Amazon sells so cheaply because books are only a small part of their business and they can afford to lose money. According to Scribe, Amazon is now bigger than all the main publishing houses combined.

Hardbacks are priced at paperback prices in the UK because of Amazon. Scribe said they were forced to publish in the smallest format at lowest price in UK. Black Inc says the local market is much better because many of the books they publish don’t have cheap Amazon editions to compete with. 

An audience member asked the obvious question: if the market in the UK is so bad why are Text and Scribe there? They said it was so they could offer both Australian and UK rights to an author and compete with the UK publishers who were offering UK and Australian rights to authors. 


My Overall Impressions 

While optimistic about the future of their own publishing houses, the publishers seemed to have real fears about the future of publishing overall, mainly due to Amazon. But not so much from ebooks, whose initial rapid growth seems to have stalled. Perhaps the publishers are all hoping a mega-seller is waiting in their slushpiles that sets their companies up for years. 


The Slush Pile 

Text said the slushpile is very important to them. At 4pm on Fridays they all down tools and go through the slushpile. They find only one or two manuscripts to publish among the 1000’s they receive. (So if you are sending a manuscript to Text, make sure it will excite the tired mind of a reader who is distracted by their plans for the weekend. Perhaps a novel about a weekend of sex and debauchery would excite their jaded minds.) The other publishers also said the slushpile was important to them too. 


Boycotting Amazon 

Their discussion about the Amazoned UK market was the final straw for me. I had already read that Amazon pays no tax and are therefore a parasite on society, and treat their warehouse workers appallingly. From now on, I will only buy ebooks from Amazon if the ebook cannot be purchased directly from the author or publisher or another site. I had already stopped buying print books from Amazon and its subsidiary the Book Depository. 

My next post will be about a session promoting the debut novels of three Aussie authors.

1 comment:

Graham Clements said...

In doing some research on the book market in the UK, I came across this article.