Adjusting to the New Digital World Order
There was supposed to be a fancy video link and Skype session about digital books and bookselling but due to technical difficulties* we had a panel of industry professionals talking about this topic instead. And it was good.
L - R: Mark Rubbo (of Readings), Michael Heyward (Text Publishing), Kate Eltham (Queensland Writers Centre and founder of if:book) and Lucie Pepeyan (Collins Booksellers) and Jon Page (Pages & Pages and also president of the ABA).
Readings has already started selling eBooks on their platform Booki.sh, which launched in February and sales are up and up. It features predominantly local authors and local publishers, mostly from SPUNC, Allen & Unwin recently joined as well and soon other big players will also be a part.
Online bookselling, on sites such as Booktopia (and the bigger, slightly more despicable ones) is not a comparable experience to shopping in a "bricks and mortar" bookshop, because your search history will influence what you see on the screen and it is highly unlikely you will stumble on something strange and unexpected. Unlike in a bookshop, where you are free to wander and look and enjoy the experience and perhaps a misfiled tome will be just the thing you didn't know you wanted.
However, Kate quickly jumped on this point and suggested that while, yes, these online bookshops are like that, people who are online actually have the whole expanse of the World Wide Web on which to discover things accidentally - or serendipitously.
It's true. One person links to one thing, someone else links to another and BAM! I've found something I didn't even know I was looking for that brings me a lot of joy. For me this week it was this.** And there's even a book on the way!
Michael Heyward said that the digital book future is "intellectually fascinating but economically absolutely terrifying."
Australia is the only English-speaking region where independent booksellers are strong and influential (yes!). The RedGroup failed because it was, as Michael simply said, a "terrible retailer". He highlighted that we have to improve conversation between retailers and publishers because what we have going on is really worth hanging on to. And so far as Amazon goes, it's a company that isn't Australian, and that doesn't pay GST, and for it to have a stranglehold on book retailing is frightening. The idea of really knowing where your money goes became a very important topic over the course of the conference.
We must maintain diversity in publishing and it could be hard if retailers and publishers don't innovate now. But if the conference panel are anything to go by, booksellers, publishers, writers...they all have innovation coming out of their wazoos.
So the advent of online bookselling and eBooks has changed everything, but it's not all bad.
*I think this is the kind of irony that 90s indie popstars sing about. Like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife.
**Ok, ok, the girl who gets hugged by authors I would like to be hugged by told me to look at it ages ago, but I didn't. Then I found the note saying: "look at this AWESOME site because you will LOVE it." And I thought: yes, I shall discover this for myself.