Guest Posts

A paler world: book culture in a jiffy bag?

by Kill Your Darlings , January 19, 201130 Comments

One of the most depressing days of my bookselling career came in late December of 2010, deep in the Christmas gift trade. It wasn’t that sales were lousy or the weather was extreme or any of the other typical retailer gripes during silly season. No, it was that Chris Flynn, one of the most enthusiastic literary types in the town – former publisher of a literary journal, host of a popular literary salon, and short-story writer in his own right – ran a piece called ‘Book Depository vs Book Stores’ on his blog, Falcon vs Monkey, which suggested readers were lemmings to be buying books from local bookshops: ‘Only a fool would believe the public will rush to spend 2-3 times as much for their product in order to sustain book stores just because they’re nice’ and that overseas titles (although anecdotally I believe a lot of locally originated books are also being sourced this way) were available more cheaply and efficiently from abroad. A UK company, the Book Depository – registered I believe in Guernsey, on the UK Channel Islands, no doubt for tax reasons – which holds no physical stock whatsoever at its mainland warehouse and only supplies order to order, was held up for special praise.

Responses to this post were mostly favourable amongst the online community, who excitedly shared that they too had found the literary Promised Land, where you never had to pay full price. Meanwhile the Harvey Norman GST campaign has been keeping the issue bubbling away in our media into the New Year. Books – as consumer commodities that are often available across a number of world markets – are popular products for those who just love comparing, in all their permutations, prices in terrestrial and online shops, both here and abroad.

Enter Michelle Griffin to the discussion in The Age on January 8, in a column entitled ‘Provocateur’. What first caught my eye was her sub-editor’s (presumably) choice of phrase: the headline ‘Forced on to the internet’, and the byline that read in part ‘we (buyers) know what we want and we want it now’.

Now, I thought that one of the commonplaces of the role of the bookshop in our cultural fabric is that it is, at its best, a place of discovery. Sometimes you enter with a particular purchase in mind, sometimes you just want to be stimulated by what you see on display or what your bookseller personally recommends. So that could be a new US novel composed of nothing but a series of questions, for instance (Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood). Or, for that matter, a French novel composed of only one sentence (albeit a very extended one!) (Mathias Énard’s Zone). Or the collected stories of one of Australia’s prose masters – published by a small local press that depends on the bookshop’s support to give its writers a modicum of exposure in a media world that often has little time for small press publishing (Wayne Macauley’s Other Stories). My point is that often you do not know what you want, and online sites, as much as they invest enormous sums into software that will suggest products you might like, cannot match the experience.

On the other hand I am with Flynn and Griffin that the Oz publishing industry needs to respond with greater vigour to the unparalleled environment it now finds itself in. The weakness of the pound and the US dollar for a considerable time now, and increasingly aggressive online merchants in the Australian marketplace (abetted in part by the price comparison site, which derives its revenue from commissions paid by some of the vendors it features) threaten to cannibalise all the efforts that have historically been put into bringing to market – in far-flung Oz – the wider world of English-language publishing. I quite share the frustrations sometimes experienced by book buyers regarding supply and/or price that occur in our book market. But I’m not across all the whys and wherefores – and I do not doubt that there are a raft of them! – as the sales directors of our major publishers may be. Just in the last week the blog Literary Life, in a laudable series on the topic of book pricing, has managed to attract at least some initial comment from members of the publishing community.

How I can respond to the likes of Flynn and Griffin and other discontents is that your bookshop, if it has any integrity, will be sharing these concerns with their suppliers, the publishers, on a regular and consistent basis, and probably has been for some time now. The results aren’t necessarily ones you will hear about (good news outcomes being rarely reported after all) – but I can attest that progress has and does result in a myriad of ways (if still not to the extent that I might like).

What is more, if your bookshop has any genuine belief in its cultural role it will be making available exactly those books from abroad you read about in various international forums in a timely and cost-effective fashion. Griffin mentions the non-release of a Commonwealth edition of Bolaño’s epic 2066 a couple of years back. I couldn’t agree more! An absolute travesty – an example of the dismal rights management of a multinational publisher that left our market completely out of the picture. They heard as much from me at the time, I can assure you! But it was also piled high, on import, in my store from the get-go – and I’m sure in a good number of other quality bookshops around the country too. Ditto the recent Jennifer Egan novel A Visit from the Goon Squad from June 2010, to turn to one of Griffin’s other examples (although the UK publisher, Constable and Robinson, is considerably smaller in this instance than in the former example, and they also have – in contrast to Bolaño – a living author on their hands, so presumably they are timing their April 2011 publication for a UK author tour). Griffin’s contention that Franzen’s Freedom was not released in Australia for a month after the US and UK? Wholly wrong – it was released simultaneously in all markets, and I’m sure HarperCollins Australia were grossly offended by this remark about a title that they had made a significant investment in.

And special order titles, where customers are being quoted a wait of six or more weeks? This is becoming less and less usual, thank goodness; booksellers bringing pressure to bear on suppliers has improved supply, as has the ever improving range of international wholesalers that provide booksellers with alternative sources.

But obviously, we as booksellers can’t be across everything, there will always be recidivists (a small minority, thankfully!) amongst our suppliers, and there is also no way we will usually be the cheapest option on a particular title in the crudest economic sense. To my mind hats off to the Book Depository in some ways – they recognised that the ‘stopper’ for so much e-commerce in books was the freight component. Obviously with a war chest behind them, they rapidly built up their business to the sort of volume that has reduced their freight expenses to a level way below those accessible to those most publishers and booksellers, let alone individuals.

But one thing the Book Depository or Amazon can’t provide is the experience of a physical, community-based bookshop: its committed staff, whose vocation bookselling is; the community of writers and readers that forms around it; and the genuine commitment to the life of words that it represents.

All this puts me in mind of an image of Pablo Neruda’s, who remarked that those readers who had not yet read Julio Cortázar were like someone who has never tasted peaches:

Anyone who doesn’t read Cortázar is doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who has never tasted peaches. He would quietly become sadder, noticeably paler and, probably, little by little, he would lose his hair. I don’t want those things to happen to me…

I wonder then where Chris Flynn expects to launch a book of his own? Okay, I guess a bar would do. But what sort of message is he sending out to young writers, who possibly consider him an authority on all things literary, and who, in his new role as ABR fiction editor, could be the one who provides a helping hand to their careers? That Australian bookshops are about screwing the public and making big profits at their expense? There are indeed folk out there saying that not just the bookshop will be bypassed in the future, but also the publisher – such is the perceived power of social media as a potent tool for sales and marketing. But I predict that such a scenario will continue to be the absolute exception, and that the surest way to market for a young writer will be to have the backing of their agent, their editor, their publisher and, dare I say it, often the first consumer of the book (in the form of an advance proof) the bookseller.

To be sure, it’s fun to get packages in the mail – it’s just like getting a present, just as long as you keep your credit card bill out of mind! But I would feel empty if there wasn’t a good bookshop to drop into (we only need to look at the impoverishment in this regard in most US and UK cities to see a possible future; and conversely the cheerier picture in a fixed-price book market like Germany, where the level playing field enables bookshops both large and small to thrive). I love going to a book launch of an evening to celebrate an author’s achievement, to be moved by just how much they (and their publisher) have put into creating the book I am holding in my hands. Do I sometimes have to pay a few more dollars that is partly a result of the very complicated factors sketched above, but partly also to underwrite a physical space, people engaged in the profession of bookselling, and a business that not just pays its taxes, but serves its community like almost nothing else can in the more intangible realm of the provision of ‘culture’?

No guesses as to where my consumer decision falls, of course. It would really be a much paler world. But don’t get me wrong, either. As an ardent bibliophile, my company’s mailroom is regularly receiving packages for me from all around the world – usually secondhand or rare books, it must be said; sometimes signed copies of new books that really take my fancy. The net is a fantastic resource for book nerds, obviously!

So my hopes out of the current discussion? Consumers simply become more mindful of their buying choices (I haven’t even begun to discuss some of the more sinister sides of some of those big online retailers – see my contribution to the earlier discussion around this topic at Killings); booksellers (the good ones*) strive to impress upon their patrons that they’re on their side in terms of providing the best possible range, quality and value; and publishers, particularly the multinational ones, go back to their head offices in NYC and London and negotiate better terms that allow them to remain competitive in today’s ever more transparent global book market. For a lot of them, distributing their parent company’s books is the trade that underwrites their locally originated publishing, and god knows that’s a fragile ecosystem at the best of times, so we need them to stay strong! However, it’s no joy to have been reading the UK trade press over the last year or two and to learn that export receipts are the only growth area in their own stagnant market – ours has been flatlining too, so someone’s making some money somewhere! And, finally, that people that profess a passion for writing and the arts are more conscious of the implications of their words when they talk about the ‘best’ place for readers to buy their books.

* I have already commented in another forum (last year’s Australian Book Industry Awards) about the tragic effect of ‘up-pricing’ by some of Australia’s larger chains on the repute of the bookselling sector as a whole.

Martin Shaw is Books Division Manager of Readings, a large independent bookshop in Melbourne, and an editorial advisor at Kill Your Darlings.

  • Chris Flynn

    Martin, I am sorry that my December post depressed you so much but surely this is not news to you and the open discussion about the startling difference in prices between ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers and online retailers has been raging for some time. One of the most telling comments on my post was by someone called anzlitlovers, an excerpt of which follows:

    “I buy the BD books when I’m *online* and this is what local booksellers do not understand. There is a vast army of readers out there chatting away about books on blogs and social networking sites and when my favourite bloggers recommend a book I buy it there and then (or less often in futile moments of economy add it to my wishlist). Most often these are books that local booksellers do not have, and are not interested in e.g. African writing (Kinna Reads), Canadian writing (Kevin from Canada), less-well-known British writers (A Common Reader and Reading Matters).

    So why do I still buy most of my books from my favourite indie bookshops? Because I like the atmosphere, they’ve displayed books that intrigue me, and I have a friendly relationship with them. (They talk to me about books and reading). They have a loyalty program that rings up on the till when I give them my name and gives me a free book every now and again (not some annoying voucher). They sponsor my favourite literary festivals, they host author events and most important of all they stock new releases of Australian literary fiction and a good backlist of OzLit as well.”

    This to me indicates the dichotomy we face as book-buying readers (not to be confused with writers) – to drive, catch a train or tram into town in order to browse books new and old and experience the flavour of a bookstore with all its associated atmosphere and interactions, that sense of community booksellers like yourself are so very fond of championing, or to open our browser in order to discover titles by tapping into a much larger community, that although it is not physical, is just as valid. Sad as it may be for bookstores (and indeed many other retailers – music, film, clothing etc), the location of the community has changed. You ask where I expect to launch a book. One could argue that bookstores often prove to be very poor venues for launches, and why indeed would I require a physical location at all for a launch, given the power of social media, online communities and ebook formats?

    Your assertion that “My point is that often you do not know what you want, and online sites, as much as they invest enormous sums into software that will suggest products you might like, cannot match the experience.” is disingenuous and patronising. Readers don’t know what they want and need to wander into your bookstore in order for wisdom to be passed down from on high? Careful, Martin. It is this underestimation of the public’s ability to inform themselves via the net that is causing such an outpouring of (admittedly horrible) bile against major retailers in the press. People do know what they want, and what they like, and how much money they have to spend. They do not rely solely on Amazon’s recommendations based on their previous purchases (though I have personally found these to be often totally on the money) and will spend hours reading blogs and review sites informing themselves and creating wishlists, as anzlitlovers states above.

    Will bookstores become a relic of the past because of all this? I don’t know. Probably not (though Borders US are closing 200 stores this month alone). I seem to have fallen into the role of devil’s advocate on this issue, odd given I worked in a bookstore for 6 years. But the fact remains I just don’t visit them as much anymore and I no longer rely upon them as a source of information or as a place of community. Sorry Martin, but like many, I have found those experiences to be richer elsewhere.

  • Peter O

    For me a bookstore is more than just about getting a book that I’ve already decided that I want at the cheapest price possible. Sure, if someone already has a certain product in mind that they can get considerably cheaper online, then by all means go for it. But, more often than not, when I go to a bookstore, I may purchase something that I’ve had in mind, but I also spend considerable time browsing or purchasing other books that I would not have thought about or encountered had I merely purchased the one title that I’d originally had in mind. The time I spend at a bookstore is a time of enjoyment and discovery. To me, it’s analogous to eating a meal in a restaurant, as opposed to having the same meal as take-away or delivered to your door. It’s the same reason that I prefer to do out for a decent strong flat white rather than purchase an espresso machine for my own home.

    From my experiences, most of the books that I wish to purchase or have an interest in are competitively priced in comparison to what I could get online. At Readings I never have trouble in finding the books that I’m interested in either.

    I also see it from the perspective, as an educator and proponent of improved literacy in society, that bookstores are a place where people can encounter a diverse collection of literature when they otherwise might not. Browsing a website to select a book with a child to encourage their engagement with literacy is nowhere near as engaging as the actual physical experience of going to a bookstore or library and selecting or reading a book. Likewise, for adults, whether encouraging a friend to read a book or for an adult who might not normally spend time reading, the place of the bookstore providing a point of discovery and accessibility is not going to be effectively replaced by online retailers.

    I suppose equating paying a few dollars more for a book to the benefit of the enjoyment, accessibility and discovery offered by bookstores might seem an indirect link, but for me it’s fairly relative when considering the needs of the local retailer to make a profit.

  • Blue Tyson

    The ‘few dollars more’ line I often see is disingenous.

    A mass market paperback type book from the Book Depository: $8
    From a shop here : $20

    A trade paperback book from the Book Depository: $12
    From a shop here : $35

    In no one’s language except someone involved with publishing or bookselling is double to triple the price ‘a few dollars more’.

    A few dollars is a handful, 3-4-5-6 maybe.

    So the MMPB would be $12 here and the trade paperback $18 if that was the case.

    But it isn’t.

    Plus, of course, the 10 dollars in parking or 6 bucks on the bus or whatever to get to the bookshop if you have to make a trip just for that purpose.

  • LouLou

    Assuming of course that we all live in the fabulous inner cities of Melbourne and Sydney where independent bookshops serve latte and cake. We don’t, dear. Another point is that often those ‘nice’ bookshops lack some service ie ‘I’m really a writer…’

    For many of us the alternative is a large chain bookshop, and I’ve never found occasion to ask a staff member for a book recommendation; I keep up to date with book releases and know what books I’d like to buy.

    Finally, it is difficult to browse a bookshop with a toddler. I enjoy the one independent bookshop in my city as it has a wonderful array of cards etc, but for most of us, the afternoon in the small bookshop sipping coffee and paying top dollar for a book available at a much, much cheaper price online is for the rich unfortunately!

  • Rebecca Starford (KYD editor)

    Hi everyone,

    It’s great to be having this debate at this time – and these comments are all food for thought. What strikes me as interesting in this conversation is the rather polarising focus on the economics of the issue at hand, rather than the threat (and it is a genuine threat) to the diversity of our bookselling and publishing industries. This debate is not just about the savings we make as individuals (because if it was, sure: we’d all shop online, but remember your money is going straight into the coffers of off-shore corporations).). It’s about the kind of literary culture we seek to maintain and grow. If you wanted to expand on this model of economic rationalism, wouldn’t you start buying everything online (food, clothes, cars)? But we have ethical and environmental imperatives these days about we purchase our clothing and our food – why shouldn’t we extend this same philosophy to where we buy our books?

    Independent booksellers are, hands down, the largest and most enthusiastic supporters of new Australian writers and publishing ventures. For decades, they have supported unknown Australian writers, built audiences, hosted events, created grassroots literary communities; they are the foundation upon which the great publishing houses were built.

    The nature of bookselling is changing, and everyone needs to adapt to this in different ways (bookstores, writers, publishers and consumers). But what kind of bookselling we want is the looming question. It’d be nice to have the choice between shopping online and buying at the indie stores – but there is a danger that we’ll lose these great culture institutions in the years to come if we value these small savings we are making today.

    We’re publishing an extended article on this subject in the April issue – it promises to be a goodie.

  • Ronnie

    I think the danger of what we could lose is probably the most interesting thing to focus on, and I would love to read an extended article that examines the hows, whens, whethers, and ifs of that danger in a really fabulously measured way – maybe a piece that is written by someone who lacks investment in our industry?

    Otherwise, isn’t the truth probably just that some people like bookstores (for reasons more involved than just the ambiance), and some people like online shopping (for reasons more involved than just the price), but most people enjoy a bunch of things about both?

  • John Dalton

    I enjoyed this post, and while I agree completely that a world without bookstores – particularly independent bookstores – would be a much poorer world indeed, I do have some criticisms.

    Before that, in the interests of full disclosure I should state that I work for LibraryThing – one of those companies who “invest enormous sums into software that will suggest products you might like” – however these comments are entirely my own.

    I love my local bookstores. I love the people who work there, and value their knowledge and experience. I love that the staff in my favourite bookstores know me by name, can remember what sort of things I like, and can make intelligent suggestions the moment I walk in the door. I spend money in my local independent bookstores whenever I can, and over the past decade that’s often been around a couple of thousand dollars a year.

    However, if you think that supporting your local bookstore means only having to pay “a few more dollars”, then you’ve not conducted the kind of experiment that Chris did in his post. Paying half the price online is routine – paying three to four times as much for a single book on the shelf locally is not at all uncommon. When I buy something locally the choice is often to buy a trade or even mass-market paperback for more than it would cost me to have the hardcover shipped overseas.

    With that sort of difference in price it doesn’t really matter how hard you or I might try to keep our local bookstores in business. People such as you or I will pay more for the service that we receive, or even just out of moral support or for the feeling of belonging to a community. Most people though just want to buy a book, and if they know exactly which book they intend to buy it’s pretty hard to argue that they should pay double to buy it down the road rather than having it mailed to their door.

    You imply that Booko is abetting the cannibalisation of years of effort by Australian publishers, while mentioning in an aside with faintly sinister undertones that they receive commissions from some of the sellers. From my perspective Booko provides a free service to users, and it lists far more local sellers than the handful of overseas vendors. Booko – which is a service produced by one bloke working alone – should be lauded for its efforts in bringing some transparency to the pricing debate. Booksellers should be hammering publishers and distributors over the head with search results showing them that we are not talking about a couple of dollars difference here and there.

    Publishers need to get their heads out of the sand and get creative; sure, we have a smaller population spread over a huge landmass and we’re on the far side of the english-speaking literary world. We want to support the development of Australian literature. That’s all well and good, but it’s all irrelevant if the local industry “protects” itself into the ground. The market will not support a difference of two to four times the cost per book – especially when the consumers involved are generally well-educated and internet-savvy.

    The most disturbing thing to me about this whole debate is the way in which it’s so frequently framed as “online vs independents”. Most independents have a very poor online presence, and there’s just no excuse for that when it’s now over fifteen years since Amazon proved that people want to be able to buy books online. Why is it not only cheaper, but *easier* for me to buy a book online? Why can’t I tell whether or not the book I want is in stock down the road? Even the best indies need to do some work; a search on Readings (which *does* have a good site) for “Stephenson” shows me Neal Stephenson’s 2009 Hugo shortlisted “Anathem” as the first result – but clicking through to the book I’m told it’s currently unavailable, with no estimate of future availability and no option to order a copy if I’m prepared to wait.

    I would love it if the Australian book-selling, book-publishing and book-buying communities could start working together on solving the very real threats to the industry. We need to do something about the price of books in this country – to ignore the problem is folly. We need to do it in a way which allows us to continue to support Australian literature, and a vibrant community of booksellers and readers. We need to do it in a way which recognises the unavoidable constraints of population and geography but treats these as challenges to be solved using new approaches and technology, rather than as insurmountable barriers requiring legislated protectionism. We need to recognise the challenges and opportunities that eBooks are bringing, and ensure that we do all we can to prevent a world where *all* of our books are sold to us from overseas, on terms dictated by a handful of distributors.

    So please, fight the good fight – but recognise that we should all be fighting on the same side.

  • Peter O

    If we’re going to be factoring in costs such as “travel and parking” into the equation, then it’s also worth mentioning that if someone is to purchase a book over the internet, they will not only need a computer, but also internet access. Last time I checked, both of these things cost money as well…. (before anyone says it, I’d regard the “oh but everyone has internet access these days” argument as being fairly disingenuous myself, as would those people who simply can’t afford that sort of commitment!). For what it’s worth, I’ve never paid any amount of money for “parking” to purchase a book!

    However, I think that Rebecca hit the nail on the head here, when she mentioned that it’s not merely about looking at the issue from an economic rationalist point of view as a consumer, but rather about the sort of literary culture that we want to have existing and growing within society.

  • Chris

    The reason that this debate often returns, as Rebecca points out, to the “polarising focus on economics” is because no-one has yet really given any force to the argument that physical bookstores are somehow essential to a good literary culture.

    Even this article, which is certainly better than many I’ve read on the topic, leaves us only with a vague suggestion that the ambience of bookstores is better than online, and a thoroughly unproven and frankly dubious argument that bookstores are somehow ethically good. Clearly, on the economics front, the physical bookstores have no argument to make. Independent booksellers have no lesser wish to make money than these villainous offshore corporations, “abetted” in their activity by one-man projects like booko. The online sellers are simply doing it better at the moment; speaking only to economics makes the physical booksellers look rather like sour grapes and puts them in the same boat as other industries whose reliable business model was undercut by the internet.

    It is up to these bookstores, then, to convince customers that a 50-200% subsidy (and not, as this article puts it, “a few dollars”) is worth it in order for them to continue providing whatever service it is they supposedly provide to culture that already is not better provided by institutions like Universities, The Wheeler Centre, Libraries and online blogs and magazines. Can they convincingly make that argument? Can they adapt their business models to a world where the physical no longer holds any inherent advantage?

  • Brad Dunn

    Hey, you can buy Meanjin on Book Depository! Fucking Ace!

  • Steve Margot

    “Can they adapt their business models to a world where the physical no longer holds any inherent advantage?”

    It isn’t necessarily true that the physical has no advantage. Wine is cheaper online, but wine stores are still doing just fine, because customers like to browse the physical shops. Some bookstores will be lost to online sales, but this doesn’t mean that bookstores will disappear altogether or that they don’t “add” anything to literary culture, either.

    The big and obvious difference between Readings (a local indie) and Book Depository (a global multinational) is this: both sell books, but only one has an investment (literal and financial) in Australian books and Australian culture. Hint: it’s not Book Depository.

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Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their September picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »


Chris Somerville

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Chris Somerville defends Heat and Light

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defence of the book they believe most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Author Chris Somerville spoke in praise of Ellen van Neerven’s debut work of fiction, Heat and Light. Read more »


Elizabeth Flux

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Elizabeth Flux defends In the Quiet

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defence of the book they believe most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Writer and Voiceworks editor Elizabeth Flux spoke in praise of Eliza Henry-Jones’ debut novel, In the Quiet. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Girl Gang: The value of female friendship

For two years I was the only girl in my class, along with four boys. Perhaps this would have been some kind of fantastic Lynx-filled utopia for a boy-crazy pre-teen girl, but for someone who was just beginning to figure out that she didn’t like boys in the same way other girls seemed to, it wasn’t what you could call ideal. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Written On the Body: Fat women and public shaming

The policing and subsequent shaming of women’s bodies is not unique to famous women. It happens to all women. Feeling entitled to denigrate fat bodies, and fat women’s bodies in particular, is one of the last bastions of socially acceptable discrimination. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Right Direction: The value of fandom

I have a pop-culture confession to make to you, Internet. It isn’t something I’ve been trying to keep hidden for fear of seeming uncool, because that ship sailed long ago. But it is something I haven’t opened up about until this point. I, Rebecca Shaw, have become a One Direction fan. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Throne Of Blood: Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth

For more than four centuries, we have found versions of ourselves in Shakespeare’s plays precisely because his characters are so human in their flaws and follies. At the same time, the arc of these characters’ stories unfolds somewhere above and beyond us, in the realm of grand tragedy or grand comedy, or both. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Memorable Chills: Edgerton’s Gift

The Gift is Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut — he also wrote, produced, and stars in it — and it bodes well for Edgerton’s directing career. A psychological thriller, The Gift is efficiently and quite memorably chilling, at least for the first half. Read more »


Joanna Di Mattia

Escaping The Wolfpack: Inside and outside the screen

The Wolfpack introduces us to the six Angulo brothers, who were kept virtual prisoners for 14 years in their Lower East Side apartment. More than a captivity narrative, this is a film about the influence of cameras and screens, and the transfixing, liberating power of cinema. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Jane Hone

How the Golden Age of Television Brought Us Back Together

I recently heard someone say that it used to be that at 6pm, everyone would sit down to watch The Cosby Show. It seemed at once a quaint and almost sci-fi notion ­– millions of people watching the same show at the same time. How things have changed. Read more »

glitch abc tv

Stephanie Van Schilt

A Glitch in the System: The ABC’s undead gamble

In one gasping breath, Glitch shows that the ABC is stumbling towards something beloved by TV audiences the world over, but that regularly eludes the Australian and film and TV industry: genre. And not just any genre, but the ‘return-from-the-dead’ zombie-style genre. Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Straight White Men - Public Theatre - Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Jane Howard

Unbearable Whiteness: Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men

Though I am delighted to see Young Jean Lee gain traction in Australia, a work by playwright who is a woman of colour should not be such a rare occurrence; nor should this only come in the form of a play that blends effortlessly into the fabric of the work that is programmed around it. Read more »


Jane Howard

Putting Words In People’s Mouths: Performing the unseen, speaking the unknown

‘Do you ever get the feeling someone is putting words in your mouth?’ A performer asks an audience member in the front row. ‘Say yes.’
‘Yes,’ comes the reply.
This theme ran through multiple shows at Edinburgh Fringe this year, where occasionally audience members, but more often performers, were asked to perform scripts sight unseen. Read more »


Jane Howard

The Impenetrable City: Getting lost at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I just saw a one-on-one performance piece that ended in my bursting into tears and the artist sitting with me and holding my hands in hers for maybe ten, maybe fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. We had a shared piece of history, and her work was delicate and took me by surprise, and I have a cold, and I am homesick, and I don’t know why I’m in Edinburgh, and I’ve cried a lot, and now I’m in a gallery because I couldn’t face another show. Read more »