Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The annual awards will be worth $100,000 in each category, with a further budget of $100,000 to be spent each year on promotion and administration of the prizes. The ASA is pleased to note that the prizes will be awarded tax-free, a policy the organisation has been encouraging the government to adopt for all awards and grants to creators.
The Prize will be the richest in Australia, and will rank among the top literary prizes in the world. Some details are still to be confirmed, but it is anticipated that the award will be open to Australian writers working anywhere in the world, and writing on any topic. The award will be run through Arts Minister Peter Garrett’s office.
Some commentators have criticised the Prize, arguing that funding should be spread more broadly. I don't disagree that we need more funding options, but the Prize represents a welcome recognition that Australian culture is to be valued under the newly lected government.
Literature is a crucial part of Australian culture. I would go so far as to say it is the wellspring for all the other narrative arts — drama, film, television and so on. Whether it is fiction (in all its myriad genres), poetry or non-fiction, literature is the means by which we as Australian portray ourselves. But the coat our literature weaves is one of many fabrics and, like cotton or silk, each fabric evolves in different ways. It is crucial for our culture and our literature that we nurture each of the ways those diverse fabrics evolve, even the rough hessian and the smooth nylon that we might otherwise discard for snobbish reasons of one form or another. Nylon, after all was once highly sought after. And hessian will still keep you warm on a cold night. This means we need many ways of manufacturing fabrics. It also means we may (I trust we will!) be manufacturing some that literary purists will consider inappropriate. In this context literary prizes are one way we can provide authors with the means to sustain their writing. But they are by no means the only way by which the fabrics of our literature can be encouraged and produced. Writers centres, readings, festivals, creative writing courses and organisations like the ASA all help research new or variant fabrics, and they must be allowed to continue to do so.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
First, Labor produced an arts policy before the election. The Coalition failed to do so. While the ALP arts policy had a number of holes, particularly to do with literature, at least it was a policy. In policy terms, I happen to think the Greens arts policy is actually much better articulated, but the Greens do not have the majority in the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, Labor relies on Green preferences for its majority in many seats and the new government should not lightly discount the Greens' arts policy.
Second, Labor suports ongoing funding for Educational Lending Right (ELR -- as did the Coalition, the Democrats and the Greens). But authors still need to ensure that ELR funding is increased and indexed.
Another reason for which we should welcome the election of the Labor government is the appointment of Peter Garrett AM to the position of Arts minister. Peter is a practising artist. He know the difficulties and issues artists face. I believe he will be a great arts minister. I congratulate him on his apointment.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Recently, the company announced the Google Print project. On the face of it, Google Print is an excellent use of internet technology. If you haven’t used it, check it out at http://print.google.com.au. You’ll find you can search an online database of thousands of books and view sample pages. For example, I used the search term “Australian Society of Authors” and in seconds I had a list of publications in which this term appears. The publications included a tremendous variety of works a considerable number of which were by past and present ASA members including works of Anthony Barker and Anna Funder. The only thing these works had in common was that somewhere in their text was contained the term “Australian Society of Authors”.
With the next mouse click Google Print took me directly to an electronic copy of the page where that term appears. In the case of Anthony Barker, the page was from the index where the ASA was listed. For Anna Funder, I found myself looking at the acknowledgements section of Bruno Amato’s Italian translation of Stasiland, the novel published after Funder’s ASA mentorship with John Tranter. I could look at a number of pages either side of the one I was first taken to, as well as the copyright page and the contents pages. I was unable to print out any of the book pages. Google claims this is impossible, as it also claims it is impossible to access an entire book through this means. However, I suspect some smart hacker is already working on ways to outwit the protection technology Google has in place.
The books I uncovered in my search had been licensed into Google Print by their publishers. Google Print is aimed at publishers, although it will deal with self-publishers. It invites large publishers or small presses to think of Google Print as a free worldwide sales and marketing system that matches people who are looking for information with the relevant words and phrases inside their books.
A number of publishers, such as Cambridge University Press, still have reservations about the system and they require users of Google Print to enter additional information before they can view the pages of their books. For these publishers, users are required to register to use the service. Some other publishers list only their books and restrict access to any pages from their books, even though the content remains searchable. That is, a user knows the information is in the book but can’t read it on screen. Other publishers allow users to search non-fiction works, but not fiction. As an example of this, I searched using Miles Franklin award-winner Andrew McGahan’s name. An impressive list of his titles appeared and I was able to view front and back covers, access ISBNs and read copyright information but nothing else. It was enough to give me a taste of the books. Amazon offers a similar service for many of the titles it offers for sale and displays front and back cover, contents copyright information and a little snippet of text.
Google argues its business model will attract new readers and boost book sales, allow publishers and authors to earn new revenue from Google contextual ads, and to interact more closely with customers through direct links back to the publishers’ websites. It is certainly a service of benefit to serious and casual researchers, and it’s much less confronting than asking a stupid question of a librarian or bookseller. Indeed, booksellers should be worried about this model as it has the potential to remove them from the supply chain.
Potentially authors can gain not only extra sales but additional subsidiary income, provided of course their publishing contract allows for them to share extra revenue from Google Print or in fact permits the publisher to licence an electronic facsimile of their book into Google Print. Questions about such grants of rights may well become issues between authors and publishers in the future, as is currently the case with aggregators of online content. Even so, Google Print seems like a sensible move into the digital environment. Google’s competitors think so. Yahoo, in partnership with Hewlett Packard, Adobe and the universities of California and Toronto, has announced plans to offer searchable, digitised texts as well. Yahoo, like Google, obviously scents money. Unlike, Google, however, Yahoo plans only to digitise works that are in the public domain or for which it has the rightsholders’ permission.
It is Google’s plans to digitise works without the permission of rightsholders that has earned the wrath of both the Authors’ Guild and the Association of American Publishers. Both organisations are suing Google. The issue is Google Print’s abuse of authors’ rights through its digitisation of books held in various US libraries in a project known as Google Library. In doing so, Google shows no respect for copyright. Rather, Google is claiming it has a fair use exemption that permits it to ignore the rights of authors and publishers.
Google’s seeming concession to rightsholders is to offer an “opt out” facility. Google says it will not digitise the works of those who voice their objections. Google also says it will remove works already digitised if rightsholders – and that means authors like you and me – tell it to do so.
Sounds reasonable, says Joe Public. Sounds like daylight robbery to me. Google has no right to steal the digitisation rights of authors. It is acting like a thief in this regard. It is no defence for a thief caught with stolen goods in his hands to say “oh, is this yours? Sorry, I didn’t mean to pinch it. Here, have it back”. It’s no defence for Google, either, but nevertheless Google is trying it on.
Respect for copyright, and the creative effort it is intended to reward, is a vital concern for both authors and publishers. It is the basis for the contracts into which authors and publishers enter.
Google’s digitisation of books in libraries ignores this. Google proposes to digitise hundreds of thousands books in their entirety without seeking permission from the authors of those books. Theft is theft is theft. And yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Google could licence the content and not act as a pirate, raiding library collections without regard for rights. With an appropriate licence system in place even more material could be made available to users. This is not a difficult problem to overcome. Businesses sign licence agreements every day.
Obviously, Google sees profitable outcomes in its investment in Google Library. Both Google Print and Google Library are intended to bring more visitors and profits to its website and ancillary services. However, in the case of Google Library, the profit comes from the works of authors. Those authors – you and me -- should be properly compensated.
Nothing more, nothing less.
However, in yielding them no moral ground, we need to be careful to maintain our current level of freedom of expression. Recently, a number of seemingly fair-minded commentators and government spokespeople have expressed support for the banning of publications and books that promulgate the views espoused by those who bomb and terrorise. The logic seems to be that if you ban the words, you cease the actions.
But this is flawed logic. It has never worked. The narrow attitudes and cultural insularity of our own past are near enough to make this abundantly clear.
For much of the 20th century, Australia’s access to information was highly regulated. The power awarded to the Customs Department under the Customs Act gave the responsible Minister the power to ban any imported work by proclamation. In 1933 the government established a Book Censorship Advisory Committee to provide the Customs Department with an educated and literary body able to prohibit the importing of inappropriate works. The members of the committee, all men, were professors, the parliamentary librarian and other distinguished Australians. They quickly established strict and rigorous criteria for the censorship of works. Anything mildly sexually explicit, positive about homosexuality or outside very narrow moral boundaries was prohibited. The department was soon banning an average of six books, newspaper and magazines a month. The censors prided themselves on maintaining ‘Anglo Saxon’ standards, as historians Nicole Moore and Deana Heath have discovered in their analysis of this process.
Along with Ireland and the increasingly apartheid-dominated South Africa, Australia was one of the worst censors in the Western world for most of the last century. Australian censors had no compunction in banning works that were acceptable in London, Paris and New York. There was a further extension of their narrowness of view in 1938 when the government set up a fund to encourage the development of literature in Australia. Those appointed to the fund were the members of the Literature Censorship Board. That is, literature in Australia was to be developed by the censors of imported literature. (Some cynics claim nothing has changed.)
But there was little discontent or commentary on censorship from booksellers or publishers or academics. It was authors who were active in the Anti-Censorship League. Authors such as Miles Franklin and Nettie Palmer opposed not only the draconian laws covering sexual expression but also those laws that allowed for the banning of books for their ‘seditious’ content. ‘Sedition’ was interpreted by those responsible for administering these laws as the ‘overthrow of civilised government’ and both novels and political tracts were banned.
The Left Book Club, founded by the famed British publisher Victor Gollancz in May 1936, had a missionary objective in educating its members with cheap, informative and readable books. A Sydney branch was established in 1938, and late that year there were over 4000 members in Australia. In 1939, after the signing of the Soviet–German non-aggression pact, the government unveiled plans to ban communist newspapers and severely censor other of their publications. Two months later, the CPA was declared a subversive and illegal organisation and party premises, including those associated with the Left Book Club, were raided.
Left Book Club publications seized by the Australian government included such subversive works as those of George Meredith, George Orwell (Down and out in Paris and London and Keep the aspidistra flying had been banned in 1936), Stephen Spender, A.L. Morton, Arthur Koestler and John Strachey. The Australian government banned all literature that dealt with the Soviet Union, despite such works being freely available in the United Kingdom.
While Customs Acts and Police Offences Acts restricted the importation of material deemed seditious or obscene from overseas, there were many other laws available through which authorities could prohibit the dissemination of information. These included advertising and gaming acts, crimes and vagrancy acts, Post Office acts, public health and venereal diseases acts, Commerce Acts, acts for the protection of children, acts covering defamation, printers and newspaper, as well as obscene publications acts.
Even after the war and during the fifties and sixties, Australia’s elaborate censorship system limited our ability to access a full range of information on a range of topics, but particularly sexuality. Christina Stead’s Letty Fox; Her luck was banned in 1947, Australia being the only country to find the work of one of our most significant writers offensive. Homosexuality was a special target of the censors who banned such respectable academic works as D.J. West’s Homosexuality as well as James Baldwin’s Another country and Gore Vidal’s City and the pillar.
In the end, though, the censors did not win and Australian society did not fall apart as a result of the increased awareness of sexuality and other cultures that resulted. In fact, the easing of censorship had an opposite effect, leading to a cultural renaissance, a re-establishment of Australian films and a recognition, with the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Patrick White in 1973, that Australian writers were equal to those from the rest of the world.
Today, Australians are proud of their multicultural, multifaceted country. We are proud of our diverse culture. We are no longer confined by a narrow Anglo Saxon viewpoint. Therefore it behoves us to resist any efforts to bring back the constrictive censorship of the past. There is no justification for it.
Freedom of expression enhances communication. Without it, we close the doors to those with whom we should be speaking and we are no longer a free and tolerant society. That is, we become so like those zealots with their life-destroying doctrines that we might as well be them.
Copyright © 2007 Australian Society of Authors/Jeremy Fisher
Friday, November 9, 2007
Traditional mail still works the best. Emails are a less effective means of registering your concerns with your parliamentarian or with our leaders. A key aspect of letters is that they reflect your individuality. Form letters or letters repeating the same phrases don’t carry the same weight as a letter from a concerned elector. If you are in a swinging seat, contact both the sitting Member and the candidate from the other party. Send copies to the party leaders, Mr Howard, Mr Rudd, Senator Brown, Senator Fielding and Senator Allison. Use your writing skills!
Educational Lending Right/Public Lending Right
The Greens, the Democrats, Labor and the Coalition have all committed to ongoing funding for Educational Lending Right (ELR). The Greens and the Democrats have also accepted the ASA’s proposal that ELR funding be increased and indexed (the details can be read on the ASA site here). Neither Labor nor the Coalition have as yet committed to any level of funding for ELR, nor have either party endorsed the ASA’s proposal to increase funding for ELR to $16 million and have it subject to WCI6 indexation. The ASA also calls for the Public Lending Right pool to be increased to $10 million. If you are in safe seat, send a letter to your local Member encouraging them to support the ASA’s proposals. Stress how valuable Lending Rights payments are to authors whose income is otherwise precarious. If you are in a swinging seat, you'll need to be more proactive and write to at least the two candidates most likely to win.
Literature in Education
The ASA has welcomed moves by the NSW Minister for Education and the WA Department of Education to strengthen the study of Australian literature. We have long advocated the study of Australian literature as a means of providing a sense of cultural identity, insight into our diversity and knowledge of our unique place in the world. Literature presents many perspectives on life, powerfully imagined and memorably expressed, and that exposure to this variety of ways of thinking about the world is one of the main benefits of literary study, particularly in a multicultural and diverse society such as ours.
It is important that all our Federal politicians commit to ongoing support for the teaching and use of Australian literature in ours schools. The Federal Government can do such things as fund the purchase of books for schools that use class sets. The teaching and study of Australian literature in schools and universities contributes to the domestic publishing industry and helps to support Australian writers. Australia’s literature, along with its history, has an important role in schools and universities in helping people understand and appreciate the Australian imagination.
Tax free awards and grants for artists
Thursday, October 25, 2007
There are some in the publishing industry who look at these figures with alarm and argue that publishing is in decline, under threat from electronic competition from DVDs and computer games. But it should be remembered that the number of books published in Australia plummeted 20% in 1981, with consequent loss of sales, and the market recovered, even under the threat of videos. Books have shown remarkable resilience, even as the level of readership appears to be decreasing. What is remarkable is that readership levels maintain a relatively high standing despite the increased demands on leisure time provided by electronic alternatives.
Even so, there is plenty to be concerned about regarding the publishing of books relevant to Australia’s literary culture. The sale of Australian-originated books declined by $50 million in 2003-04 after healthy increases in previous years. The industry has only been subject to this degree of analysis since 2000, but the ABS does not propose to continue to survey the industry in such detail any longer, so this snapshot, inconclusive as it is, may be the only information retrievable on the state of Australian-originated publishing. The Australian Publishers’ Association, whose membership is dominated by large, overseas-owned corporations, interprets this information differently in the September 2005 APA Update. The APA records “the news is pretty good” and so it is for overseas-owned publishers. Profitability increased in 2003-04, a result of lower costs, even though sales dropped $18 million on those in 2002-03 and the hardest hit part of the market was Australian-produced books.
The publishing of Australian originated fiction publishing appears to have reached a peak of $125.2 million in 2001-02 when the category outsold imported fiction ($102.5 million) and is declining. Only $73.1 million in sales of Australian fiction were achieved in 2003-04 compared to $116.6 million for imported fiction. Generally, figures show mass market paperbacks have the highest sales value compared to trade paperbacks and hardbacks. Because the unit price of mass market paperbacks is much lower, however, the return to an author per copy is much less, assuming that all authors receive a royalty of 10% of recommended retail price (and publishers like Penguin are trying to drive the royalty rate even lower).
The decline in sales of Australian-originated books is reflected in the fact that royalties and fees paid by publishers in 2003-04 declined 11% on the previous year.
Sales of the nonfiction category, which covers cookbooks, self-help, and a diverse range of other subjects, is increasing. This is supported by data from Nielsen Bookscan which shows that nonfiction titles make up 53% of the market for books while fiction makes up 28% and children’s book make up 18%. ABS data show non-fiction books, both Australian and imported, were worth 59% of general content sales in 2003-04.
Sales of Australian originated childrens’ books increased in 2003-04, but this market segment is still dominated by imported books.
Of concern to all authors is the fact that the average selling price of Australian titles dropped from $11.36 to $9.10 (a 20% decrease) between 2002-03 and 2003-04. For royalties calculated on the selling price, this represents a drop in income for authors. In contrast, the average salary of a publishing company employee rose 9% to $52,300. Editors also had an award increase.
The market share of imported books is also a threat to Australian authors. The increase in non-fiction is not compensating for the drop in sales of fiction.
While the number of new titles in 2003-04 is marginally greater than the previous year, these titles appear on the face of the sales information to have lost market share.
More information is available in my publication Current Publishing Practice.
This is good news for Australian literature and Australian authors.
The news has been welcomed by the ASA and Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, Dr Imre Salusinszky.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
This is a sensible move, even if it seems odd. Think of any state in the USA and the English curriculum in that state -- it would be unthinkable for that curriculum to contain works which were not American. Yet here in Australia there is argument about whether or not Australian literature is good enough or even interesting enough to find a place in NSW schools.
The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) welcomes moves to strengthen the study of Australian literature in NSW classrooms.
The ASA has long advocated the study of Australian literature as a means of providing a sense of cultural identity, insight into our diversity and knowledge of our unique place in the world. Without our literature, we have no stories of our own. We cannot then make film, television and other narratives.
Also, our authors are world class. We have nothing to be ashamed of in teaching our literature. Our children’s writers and illustrators are already being exported and widely translated. Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks’ Fox won the German Children’s Literature Prize in 2004. Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is currently a bestseller in France and Germany. Contemporary adult authors like Michelle de Kretser, Kate Grenville, David Malouf and Peter Carey regularly win prestigious international prizes. Les Murray was in the running for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature.
Friday, October 19, 2007
This fact alone makes the publishing industry Australia's leading creative industry. But, like almost all creative industries, it is the creators themselves who are least likely to benefit from the success of the industry.
Some Australian authors certainly do well, but publishers do better. It is important for authors that publishers makes profits so they can pay royalties, but surely it ought to be as important to publishers to ensure authors share in their success.
Publishers like to place clauses in their contract that reduce royalties for reprints of 1000 copies or less, even though they will have made back their investment on the first print run. Another trick is to reduce royalties rates for other than the initial version of the work, say a mas-market edition, again flying in the face of publishing economics in that further editions maximise the earning for the publisher. That's the way publishing works, after all. And I say that with over 30 years experience in the Australian publishing industry as a publisher.
In the success of the Australian publishing industry, there seems to be some darkness for authors.
But we have to remember our past and learn from it and seek opportunities where we can.
The years 1940 and 1941 were dark indeed for Australia. Japanese forces moved steadily southwards, Darwin was bombed, the Brisbane line was drawn.
But in this darkness a benefit emerged for Australian writers. The Australian government, needing to maintain capital reserves, imposed an embargo on American imports, including books and paper. Suddenly, Australian writers were being sought to produce detective fiction, Westerns and other novelettes published to meet public demand. Writers no longer had to hawk their wares to London publishers. One of the writers who found his detective books being published locally was Alan Yates (“Carter Brown”), who later became a member of the ASA’s Committee of Management at its second meeting in September 1963.
Jon Cleary, who is still an ASA member, began to be published in Australia in the early forties, along with other early ASA members such as Morris West. The restrictions on imported books remained until 1959. A book bounty was introduced in 1969 to encourage printing in Australia, but by that time a pattern of reading Australian writers had been established.
Still, Australians’ literary diet today is spiced with writers in English from India, Canada, the UK, the US, and occasionally New Zealand, as well as Australia. Unfortunately, that means the competition for Australian writers in their own market is actually greater than that for American writers in theirs.
Australian writers are further disadvantaged by the fact that most of the 20 largest book publishers in Australia are divisions of multinational corporations whose accountants are based in New York, Paris, London or Berlin. The corporate eye is on return on investment, not, as in the days of Brian Johns at Penguin, the development of a thriving Australian publishing industry. A new author now is required to be instantly successful, able to sell the same number of books as an author who has crafted a reputation over a significant period of time. Authors whose books fail to meet these sales expectations are brutally dispensed with.
But sometimes we can spend too much time lamenting what’s wrong, and miss opportunities to improve our situation. Again, we can turn to history for guidance.
In 1905, the United States was in a similar situation to that which it is in today in that it had a Republican President (Theodore Roosevelt) who intervened in foreign countries (Panama) for American benefit.
Australia was quietly developing its newly won nationhood. Secure within their newly-federated island country, the citizens throughout Australia were placing plaques in churches and town halls to commemorate those who had served in the Boer Wars. Ten years later, the same people were counting more war dead, a count that would continue until late in 1918. Hugo (Jim) Throssell, husband of Katharine Susannah Prichard (a member of the ASA from 1964), was one of the lucky survivors of World War I, but survival did not ensure happiness. In 1933, he took his own life while his wife was travelling overseas.
Well before this, towards the end of 1905, Miles Franklin began planning a trip to London, of two minds about the success of My Brilliant Career. It had sold well, but most royalties were on “colonial sales” (copies sold in Australia) and earned only half the rate of those sold in the UK.
Nearly 60 years later, colonial rates was one of the issues that led to the formation of the ASA in 1963. The first Australian writer to have this anachronism removed from her contracts was Dymphna Cusack, an inaugural member of the Council of the ASA. The first issue of Broadside, the ASA’s first newsletter, reported that at least six British publishers had agreed to negotiate colonial rights, and, thanks to the ASA’s work, these unfair royalties have disappeared.
Regardless of the political situation in Australia or internationally, regardless of the waxing and waning of literary fashion, the ASA continues to stand for increased returns for writers and to argue for more channels of remuneration. There will always be some sad circumstance for us to lament—that is perhaps why some of us write—but nothing should stand in the way of writers achieving the right to maintain a living.
The ASA has achieved a great amount over the past 40 years. It also won Public Lending Right and achieved success with Educational Lending Right. The ASA was also instrumental in the establishment of the Copyright Agency Ltd (CAL), which now provides another income stream for writers, especially those in the education sector, for the photocopying of their work. It has also established minimum standards for book contracts.
But despite all this work there is still much to be done. In my office I have in front of me a contract from a publisher that asks the author to assign copyright to the publisher, which would spell the end to any additional remuneration -- such as a CAL payment -- for the author. As well, the contract offers a flat fee upfront and royalties only after the sale of 3200 copies, which may have an impact on the author’s right to Educational Lending Right (ELR).
These are issues of core interest to writers. The everyday task of improving the ability of writers to be able to make a living remains central to the ASA.
The publishing industry might be successful but the fight for authors to make a living from their writing continues.
Some of this material has previously appeared in Australian Author. Copyright © 2007 Australian Society of Authors/Jeremy Fisher
Thursday, October 18, 2007
His article made me think about how we fund creativity in Australia. Like Marcus says, we actually give more to "cover bands" than we do to original artists.
Let me give you some facts. When we start comparing contributions from different creators to Australia’s cultural life and development we can see creators, and authors in particular, are undervalued. We can see this through government funding.
In Australia, the Australia Council for the Arts funds artists and creators with grants and operational money. For instance, the Major Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council dispensed $78,182,476 to the performing arts in the period 2005-06.
Opera does especially well from Major Performing Arts Board funding. Opera Australia and the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra received over $14.5 million dollars between them.
If you like opera, that’s terrific! If you don’t, you might wonder why anyone would spend $14.5 million on an artform that engages with very few people, either as performers and audiences. It’s not as if the funding supports Australian composers and librettists writing operas. The works performed in Opera Australia’s October 2006 season were from the composers Gilbert and Sullivan, Verdi, Janacek, and Handel. Dead European composers.
Of course the Major Performing Arts Board’s funding of opera also supports Australian singers and musicians and that is undeniably a good thing. The funds made available to Opera Australia provide living wages for musicians and singers, in fact around 1300 of them.
There is no way I would take funding away from these dedicated performers. Yet I can’t help but dwell on the fact that in the same period Opera Australia and the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra received their $14.5 million, the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts dispensed a mere $4,526,308 in grants and funding to writers and organisations supporting writers. While this included seven fellowships of $40,000 and one Emeritus Fellowship of $50,000, it wasn’t exactly employment for authors. The allocation of funding in this way forces me to ask why is it that singers and musicians can receive a living wage from government funding yet the same is not true for authors. What I can’t understand is what makes the performance of a Verdi or Handel opera worth more than the writing of a book. That’s the logical conclusion you must reach regarding the funding of arts in Australia. Through the allocation of money in this way, the performance of opera works by dead European composers is valued more than the authorship of original Australian books.
This sounds like a whinge, but my argument is based on sound free-market facts. Despite its reputation as an artform appreciated by the high and mighty, opera is not a popular artform. In fact, very few people at all go to opera performances – only 294,000 in 2004. That’s a little more than 0.01% of the Australian population. It isn’t what I’d call successful market penetration by a vibrant, living cultural form.
And does opera make money? Not at all. It is highly subsidised. It doesn’t even make money on the recordings or televised broadcasts of performances.
Australian literature on the other hand earns around $100 million a year in Australian sales, even when it is claimed to be “in decline”. Why? Because Australians continue to read Australian books in significant numbers. According to BookData figures released through Books Alive, 35,230,246 trade books were sold in Australia in the first nine months of 2006 (that’s about 1.75 books for every Australian). Over 65% of those books are produced in Australia by Australians. That’s much greater economic success and market penetration than opera can claim. At the same time the ABS reports that there were 556,000 Australians who were involved in writing. That’s almost double the number of punters who rock up to the Opera House to sip champagne between arias.
So why is it then that 1300 performers and musicians can be paid a living wage and yet so few authors receive such compensation? Because we are not assessing government support for the arts in free market terms, that’s why. Why do we have this aberration in government policy? Surely not because MPs and Ministers like to hang out at “first” nights of an artform that reached its use-by date in the nineteenth century?
Regrettably, that may be exactly the reason, given the massive corporate sponsorship for opera from the likes of Exxon Mobil, IBM, Australia Post, Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank. But with this sort of corporate support, why does opera need government funding at all? If corporate Australia is so desperate to see another soprano warbling Wagner while mingling with Ministers, surely they can pay totally for the privilege.
Of course the soprano should still be paid a living wage. I’m not belittling the artistry involved in performing opera. I’m simply trying to value it in terms of its place in Australian culture.
I believe a strong argument can be mounted that only art forms that lead to the creation of new Australian works should be funded by the taxpayer.
All opera can claim in recent years is the creation of the Lindy Chamberlain opera and Batavia neither of which were mainstream successes as, say, Kate Grenville’s book The Secret River has been. On this basis, opera would be a big loser.
If opera’s funding was assessed according to this criterion, it would probably be about equal to its market size and its cultural significance; this is, not very much. The funding for literature on the other hand would be altered considerably, and more authors would be able to be paid a living wage.
So why isn’t literature getting this sort of funding? Is the truth that, as a nation, we believe dead European composers are more deserving of the money we allocate for the arts than living Australian authors? Are we still accepting a cultural cringe where we cannot accept living Australian creators are as good as if not better than dead European ones?
Or is our arts funding simply fundamentally flawed because it doesn’t follow free market principles?
Whatever, we undervalue authors.
Much of this material appeared in Australian Author, December 2006. Copyright © 2006 Australian Society of Authors/Jeremy Fisher.
Friday, October 12, 2007
The Minister for the Arts, Senator George Brandis SC, confirmed that funding for Educational Lending Rights (ELR) had been confirmed past 2008 on 8 August 2007 (see his press release here).
The Australian Society of Authors was instrumental in establishing ELR. The ELR program provides payments to eligible Australian creators and publishers on the basis that they are missing out on potential royalty payments when their books are borrowed from educational libraries rather than purchased. The Public Lending Right program (PLR) provides the same support for works held in public libraries.
ELR was established in 2000–01 as an element of the Book Industry Assistance Plan, offering compensation for the imposition of the goods and services tax (GST). It received funding of $35 million for the period 2000–01 to 2003–04. Following a review of the programme in 2003, $44 million was provided in the 2004–05 Budget to continue the scheme for the next four years. Further funding has now been confirmed. The Australian Labor Party has also made a commitment to further funding for ELR in its Arts statement.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
On 8 October, the Government announced it had committed to funding for Educational lending Right (ELR) past 2008, although there was no mention of the level of funding or whether the ELR pool would be indexed.
This may have resulted from the fact that, in August, the ASA put three key positions to all parties standing for the Federal election. The first related to a recommendation to fund class sets of Australian literature (where in line with curricular practice) for the teaching of Australian literature in secondary schools. The second called for a tax-free awards and grants (including those from the Australia Council) to authors. The third related to continued and increased funding for Lending Rights. To date we have received the following replies:
The Australian Greens support a very significant increase in funding to public schools to enable improved resourcing of all areas of the curriculum including English.
The Greens believe curricula decisions are best made by experts including teachers and not politicians. The provision of class sets of Australian literature in schools would receive in principle support from The Australian Greens if such a decision was made in the context of an overall resource funding increase, and that relevant curricula decisions made by boards of education or a national curricula body, if one comes into existence, informed such a decision.
Tax liability of prizes
Removal of tax liability for literary prizes is one way of improving the level of financial support to Australian writers. The Greens support the principle although the scope and extent of such an exemption would need to be examined. Grants from the Australia Council would obviously be prime candidates for such an exemption.
Educational Lending Right
The Greens believe the existing public lending right and the new Educational Lending Right scheme is crucial to maintaining a viable Australian literary industry. We support additional funds directed towards the schemes and the placing of ELR on a permanent footing with guaranteed increases to funding in line with CPI.
The Australian Democrats have responded to the ASA and their position is available here.
ALP’s arts policy released
The ALP’s Shadow Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett, released the party’s policy paper on the arts in September. While the document is short on detail, it does commit the party to retaining Educational lending Right (ELR), though there is no indication of increased funding or indexation.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
In Berlin I also took the time to catch up with Katharina Hacker, the 2006 winner of the german Prize. Her book, The Lifeguard, is a terrific read.
In Australia, we tend to take this right for granted, but in fact it is in place in only about 27 countries. The USA is not one of them.
European countries lead the way, and new countries admitted to membership of the EU have an obligation to introduce PLR as part of their membership of the EU.
Some of the Scandinavian countries have an issue with the EU since their PLR systems, like Australia's, aims to encourage their national literatures. The EU expects all of its members to pay PLR for all authors whose works are held in librraries. This has meant that some countries are now paying PLR to US authors, despite the fact the PLR does not exist in the USA.
At the same time, Australian authors are eligible for payment as well. The ASA is looking at acting as a central source for the collection of European PLR payments for Australian authors whose works are held in European libraries. I followed up this matter with the Authors Licensed Collecting Society (ALCS) in London after the PLR conference.
At present, there are no plans for Australia to pay PLR for any authors except those who are citizens of or resident in Australia.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
In a general discussion on books coinciding with the Melbourne Writers Festival (see my other blog entries below), Wendy and Derek asked me to provide some advice to listeners on how to get their novels published. It was interesting while I waiting to go live to hear the many listeners calling in to talk abouit their reading groups and the books they were fond of reading. Unfortunately, none of these readers mentioned any books by Australian authors, and that is significant. Ian McEwan and Dave Eggers appear to have a higher public profile than any new Australian author. That means their books are more likely to be read. It doesn't mean their books are any better than those of Tara June Winch, say, or James Bradley or Shane Maloney.
Derek suggested that everyone had a novel in them, but I don't think this is true. Writing is a specialised craft. Unfortunately, it is not one that everyone can master. But as I pointed out, knowing your market -- the potential of that market -- is very important for any writer. If you are writing for a niche market, your potential for return is going to be limited by the economic size of that niche. You may be very successful in that niche, however.
As I said, only 10% of the Australian book market is made up of Australian fiction. This is a distressing statistic for anyone who seeks to be come a professional writer of fiction in Australia, living off their writing. We just don't seem to see Australian literature as a vital part of our culture. I don't mean any insult to Derek, but the Freudian slips he made (calling the Miles Franklin Award the Booker, and confusing Alexis Wright's Carpentaria with Xavier Herbert's Capricornia -- easy enough to do when you're speaking off the cuff) suggest that foreign authors are more familiar to us than our own. Doesn't anyone share my outrage that this seems to be so?
Anyway, for any members of reading groups out there, why not read the two great books Capricornia and Carpentaria together and comprehend their revealing and contrasting views of Australia.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I was pleased to be able to work with Louise Connor (Victorian Branch Secretary from Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance) and Joel Becker (Director of the Victorian Writers’ Centre) to try to alleviate your fears about life as a professional author. I think we managed to give considerable practical advice about support services, networking and negotiating your net worth as an author (book contracts) and a freelance writer (individual contracts) in the time allowed.
But if you need to know more, I highly recommend the Australian Society of Authors website where you will find an enormous amount of information to assist in setting you up as a professional author and help you towards getting published.
One thing that the MWF session made clear was the need for authors to feel they are not alone. Memberships of writers centres and professional organisations like the Australian Society of Authors are excellent ways of overcoming the lonelineness of the professional author and in creating the networks necessary to enhance your career prospects. If you want to be a professional author, you should become a member of the peak organisation represeting your rights and interests.
But a creator at least has the ability to decide what to do with their creation. In the case of an author, in order to make a living, the creative work is usually licensed to a publisher who pays the author a fee or royalty for the use of the material in different forms, but primarily for publication in book form. It is always an option for an author to choose to give their work away if they do not wish to earn any income from it.
In the session on copyright at the Melbourne Writers Festival on 26 August I joined a panel that discussed many questions about how we can preserve and protect the intellectual property of authors who publish in an online environment and how we can predict the future of the printed word and the publishing industry. Other members of the panel included Hugo Award-winning author Cory Doctorow who has published three science fiction novels. Cory allows his books to be downloaded from the internet for free under a Creative Commons License (craphound.com). Cory argues that e-books should be seen as a way of winning new audiences rather than losing sales. Sandy Grant, Publisher of Hardie Grant Books and Director of Copyright Agency Limited, wondered whether there was any real advantage in this. He welcomed the free marketing, and was very complimentary about Cory's website, but suggested that there was far too much unedited material available on the net and publishers added valuable quality control to printed products.
Jessica Coates, project manager of Creative Commons, asserted that the e-age will empower online authors, but she cautioned that authors need to be clear what they want to do and the licensing terms they are entering into.
As Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors and a member of the Board of the Australian Copyright Council, I agree entirely with this approach. An author should be very clear as to the terms of any publishing agreement, whether that agreement be for traditional print use or online use, and whether for payment or otherwise. Authors should also know what they have licensed. For example, if you use a creative Commons licence to allow your work to be disseminated and copied freely, you may find that you are not entitled to payments for copying of your work under the statutory licences embedded in the Australian Copyright Act (such licences do not operate in the Unted States). Also if a library downloads and prints a copy of your work, then stores it for access, you may find you are not entitled to lending rights payments for that copy.
The Australian Society of Authors can provide help and assistance to members seeking clarification on these issues. The Australian Copyright Council and Creative Commons also provide advice.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
The net sales value of the book market in Australia was $1,560.6 million in 2003-04, a slight decline from $1,578.6 million in 2002-03. In 2003-04, there were 234 businesses identified as book publishers and a further 10 identified as major contributors. In 2002-03, the overall operating profit (income, less expenses of $1,487.7 million and a reduction in inventories of $2.5 million) for the industry was $88.4 million (5.6%), but, even with a decrease in net sales value, 2003-04 proved a better year than the previous one with the overall operating profit rising to $152.1 million (9.7%) as expenses were lower at $1,404.4 million and reduction in inventories was $4.2 million. In 2003-04, 133 of 244 publishers were involved mainly in publishing books of general content while 111 were involved mainly with publishing educational books (including professional and reference books).
Just on 60% of the books sold in Australia originate in Australia accounting for sales in 2003-04 of $811.9 million. This is a vast change from 1960, when 75% of the books sold in Australia were imported, and 1980, when 63% of the books sold in Australia were imported.
However, the change in ownership of publishers has been insidiously the other way. Very few Australian companies feature on the list of the Top 20 publishers. However, it is interesting to note that the structure of the industry hasn’t changed much in over 20 years. In 1982, there were 200 active publishers in Australia, compared with 234 in 2003-04. In 1982, no publishers had a turnover of more than $40 million, and only 20% had a turnover of more than $2 million. The majority had a turnover of less than $1 million. This pattern was pretty much unaltered in 2003-04. While there are no publicly available figures on the turnover of most Australian publishing companies because they don't have to report to Australian authorities or are privately owned, it is possible to gauge their size through their reported activities and the annual reports of their overseas owners. As well the ABS has reported (the only year it has done so) that in 2000-01, the 20 largest book publishers in terms of income earned an average of $52 million each, while the remaining book publishers earned an average of $2 million. Overall the 228 businesses involved in book publishing in that year earned an average of $6 million each.
These facts need to be placed in a global context. For example, the international operations of Harcourt Education (purchased by Pearson in 2007), which include Australia, had an operating profit of A$69.6 million for the six months ended June 2004, the 2004 world-wide revenue for McGraw-Hill in 2004 was A$3,050 million with an operating profit of A$432 million, and the 2003 world-wide revenue for Random House (part of privately owned, German Bertelsmann) was A$2,940 million. In other words, the Australian market is a very small part of global publishing, and the global activities of some of the larger publishers operating in Australia are larger than the entire Australian market.
Closer examination of the Australian market reveals that 77% ($1,198.3 million) of the 2003-04 total income for publishers and other major contributors was generated by the 20 largest (in terms of income) book publishers. These 20 publishers were equally as significant in sales, selling 78% ($1,057.8 million) of the value of total book sales and 76% (97.7 million) of all books sold, but their profit margin was lower than that for the overall industry at 9.5% in 2003-04 while it was 12.7% for the other publishers. Mind you, that's not a bad return!
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Currently, the education sector represents the largest publishing segment. It was worth $547.8 million in 2002-03, with $342.5 million of that resulting from Australian published material, but had dropped to $526.1 million in 2003-04. Of the 2003-04 sales, books produced in Australia were worth $343.4 million or 65% of educational sales. Most of these were for school use, the largest proportion of imported titles being used in tertiary education, though the number of imported titles being used in schools is growing and is a worrying trend for both culture and income for educational writers.
The decline in sales of educational books reflects international patterns and perhaps the influence of internet in education. Copyright Agency Ltd (CAL) is reporting a greater rate of copying of material available on the internet. Its market size had increased year by year since 2000 but plummeted to $498.8 million in 2003-04 (Table). There were 4615 new Australian educational titles published in 2002-03 and 4610 in 2003-04.
Table: Income from sales in the educational publishing market in Australia 2000-2004
Period Australian Education (m) Imported Education (m) Total (m)
2000-01 $295.9 $178.4 $474.3
2001-02 $310.2 $209 $519.2
2002-03 $328.4 $205.3 $533.7
2003-04 $313.2 $185.6 $498.8
The Australian Publishers Association (APA) compiles a list of bestsellers each year in the categories of adult hardbacks; adult trade paperbacks; adult mass-market paperbacks; children’s hardbacks; and children’s paperbacks. Only sales at retail outlets at standard publisher discounts and where the author gets a full royalty are included.
Books by Australian authors sell well. The APA survey in the year up to 30 March 2004 showed the adult hardback Brother Fish by Bryce Courtenay (Pearson/Penguin) sold more than 250,000 copies at an RRP of $49.95, topping that category; the adult trade paperback The Reef by Di Morrissey sold over 105,000 copies at an RRP of $30, topping that category; and the mass market adult paperback Friends to the End by Bradley Trevor Grieve sold more 50,000 copies at a RRP of $14.95, coming in at No. 11 in that category well behind Dan Brown whose books filled the first four positions in this category.
In a year when a new Harry Potter book is published (such as 2007), that book dominates the sales charts. In 2006, Kate Grenville's The Secret River (Text) sold well, helped by its inclusion in the Books Alive campaign. A big seller in 2005-06 was Li Cunxin's Mao's Last Dancer (Pearson/Viking).
In 2003-04, publishers and other major contributors based in New South Wales or Victoria accounted for 94% of total book sales (51% NSW; 43% in Victoria).
Monday, August 20, 2007
One way of ensuring this has been suggested by the Australian Literature in Education Roundtable in Canberra on 7 August. That was a call for government financial support for the purchase of class sets of Australian literature for study in our schools. This would not only provide more support for the teaching of our literature in schools, it would have the practical benefit of providing royalties for authors and income for publishers.
We also need to ensure that awards, prizes and grants for authors are provided tax- free, in the same manner that Prime Minister Howard has flagged for the Prime Minister's Prize for History.
A third crucial point for Australian authors is increased funding for lending rights. This should also encompass the permanent funding of Educational Lending Right (ELR), with ELR linked to CPI increases, as applies to Public Lending Right (PLR).
But we need to make our view on these issues heard by our elected representatives and we need to make sure we have their support. This means we need to write to them.
The purchase of Australian books for schools requires interaction between the Arts and the Education portfolios. Senator Brandis is Minister for the Arts and Julie Bishop is Minister for Education. Peter Garrett is Shadow Minister for the Arts and Stephen Smith is Shadow Minister for Education.
Start your lobbying early!
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
There is an encouraging unity of responses across the Australian publishing industry in the face of A & R's bizarre behaviour.
Monday, August 13, 2007
The correspondence from A&R, with a response from Tower Books distributors can be read by clicking on the title to this blog entry.
The ASA and the Australian Publishers Association (APA) immediately protested A&R's actions, since Australian authors (like Miles Franklin award winner Alexis Wright) were affected.
The support we have received was overwhelming. Weekly Book Newsletter produced a special edition noting the unprecedented industry response.
We have also received messages of support like this one from Mark Carthew : "Small and medium sized publishers who are a critical mainstay of support to Australian writers, illustrators and book creators will be totally disenfranchised by these tactics and only the big conglomerates will be able to compete. They will support overseas initiated products and almost certainly cheap import dumping. These methods that can only be described as akin to extortion, and should be viewed as such by the community. Our industry is in dire trouble if this tactic goes unchallenged ... I applaud the APA and ASA for taking such a quick stand to uphold the values and integrity of our industry".
It has been suggested that the Australian Society of Authors and like-minded organisations such as PEN institute a "buy Australian authors" campaign to highlight the fact that our national litearture faces perils ranging from lack of attention in education to cost impositions in bookstores.
What do you think? Let me know through your comments
Friday, August 10, 2007
Think about that next time your publisher rejects your manuscript!
Click on the title to this blog entry to go to the original source.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
I was invited to attend the Australian Literature in Education Roundtable in Canberra, ACT, Australia, on 6-7 August. The Roundtable was organised by Dr Imre Salusinszky, Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, and Dr Peter Holbrook, Literature Board member, to review the position of Australian literature in secondary and tertiary education.
The Roundtable on 7 August, 2007, began with positive news. The night before, the federal Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, had announced the endowment of a new chair of Australian literature. While the name and location of the chair has yet to be determined the move was welcomed. There are only two other chairs of Australian literature (Sydney and Queensland universities).
Both of the Professors occupying those chairs (Robert Dixon from Sydney and David Carter from Queensland) were present at the Roundtable.
David Carter gave a presentation looking at the number of Australian novels and literary novels published over he past few years. His figures did not cheer us much. The research can also be read in the April issue of Australian Author (available from the ASA).
Robert Dixon presented a paper that looked at the books and authors studied at Sydney in Australian literature from 1967 until now. In the past few years both the number of books and authors has declined, as has the number of students. All in all, dispiriting stuff.
So it was a relief to debate the communique that was made public after the event (available from the Australia Council).
Monday, August 6, 2007
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Jeremy Fisher speaks to Tasmanian members in Hobart on 28 July. Photo: Bronilyn Smith
It was terrific to meet so many Tasmanian members at the Harbour Lights Cafe and discuss issues of interest to all.
Tasmania is a vibrant, creative community and authors there put a lot of work into self-promotion and self-publishing with significant results.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
The assumption here is that the future of publishing must be digital and I am not sure that that is true. There are plenty of opportunities to explore in the digital world but I am not yet writing off books and print publications. First we need to ensure we know what the digital world has to offer us. After all it has changed our lives in so many ways already. The fact that I can write this blog is indicative of that.
But I am not earning income from this type of writing (yet). Writers who spend considerable amounts of their time online writing blogs like this are taking time away from writing works that have more potential to give them income. I have two book reviews I need to complete, for example.
The argument put up by the digital evangelists is that a blog like this will give me a presence in the digital world and expand my profile so that I will have more opportunities to earn income from other writing sources. Having a blog like this is said to be part of creating the author as brand name.
I don't know. It is certainly easy enough to start a blog and add links to my writing available on the web. And I think it is as certain that publishing models have changed and will continue to change. Nobody these days is investing in printed encyclopaedias. Journals are more and more likely to be published online. There are advantages to both writers and readers in this. The material can be more immediate and corrections and commentary can be added to the original digital publication.
Educational publishing in general is suffering in the traditional model of print-based text because the consumers -- teachers and students -- can find better resources online or in other places. Already we have seen Thomson Corporation and Reed Elsevier depart textbook publishing, although both companie retain their lucrative online professional publishing operations. They have built themselves profitable online niches.
Pearson has opted to acquire more, as shown by its recent acquistion of the international Harcourt operations. Is Pearson able to re-engineer itself from a traditional publisher to a supplier of digital material in time to beat the critical nexus when print=based income will decline and digital income will not yet be sufficient to replace it? We shall see. It is interesting that Houghton Mifflin-Riverdeep have purchased Harcourt in the USA. Riverdeep is fundamentally a supplier of digital content. It does not ned to re-engineer itself. I'll be interested to see how each of these companies is performing in three years time.