In August, figures from Nielsen Bookscan (as reported by Melissa Kent in the Sun Herald) revealed that trade sales for books in Australia was worth $1, 250 million for the previous year. This represented sales of 63 million books, and an increase of 7.5 per cent on the previous year.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported trade sales of $819.6 million for 2003-04, the last period for which it collected information, with total book sales (including educational books) of $1,353.2 million. Since educational books are mostly excluded from the Nielsen Bookscan figures because the system doesn't pick up sales from educational suppliers, the two data sources appear to corroborate that there has been an increase in sales of books in the trade sector. It is impossible to see what is happening in the educational sector, though.
Nielsen Bookscan data doesn't break out data for Australian books, but the ABS data shows that Australian fiction, non-fiction and children's books (excluding educational titles) had average sales of $438.5 million each year over the four year period 2000-04. This is a major contribution to the Australian creative industries economy and of course a significant proportion of the sales of books in Australia.
Five of the top 10 Bookscan bestsellers in the 2007-08 period were Australian. One, 4 Ingredients, sold over 600,000 copies (this is a self-published title). Another was Underbelly (John Silvester and Andrew Rule, Floradale Press) which had an appeal to the difficult 18-30 year old male demographic.
Unhappily, only one Australian film, Happy Feet, was in the to 50 films for the same period.
My point? Well, funding for Australian literature is pretty paltry. In 2003-05, the Australian Government allocated only $27.6 million to Literature and print media. This included funding for lending rights of around $17 million and amounts offered in grants by the Australia Council. This amount is dwarfed by the enormous sums that flow to major performing arts and opera, arts forms that often fail at a cost recovery basis and offer none of the economic returns that can be seen with literature.
Australian literature is making an enormous contribution to our creative industries economy and this is largely unrecognised. This should not be so.