Trends in Australian book-buying and the future of Australian bookshops will no doubt continue to be a hot topic in 2011. In Issue Five of Kill Your Darlings, released next week, Editor-in-Chief of Bookseller+Publisher magazine, Matthia Dempsey, reflects on her book-buying habits and how they shape the future of bookshops.
It was a hot night and the garden was crowded. The debate taking place across the lawn from me was of the forward-leaning, hand-wielding kind that suggested violent disagreement about Franzen’s Freedom or who is the better Bronte sister (Charlotte, obviously). Before long, one of the participants had smashed his champagne glass against a nearby potted palm and was holding it to his adversary’s throat. The topic: the price of books in Australia.
Okay, that’s not quite how it went down… But there’s no denying discussion of Australian book prices can get heated. And these days there are not a lot of places you can go in the world of books without this particular subject raising its head to distract you from the kind of conversations you imagined having in a space full of writers and publishers – discussions about the books themselves, about writing, politics, identity and expression, morality. You know: meaning-of-life type stuff.
This particular debate, between a small but successful independent Australian publisher reputed for his non-fiction list, and a savvy writer/ reviewer with a position on several book-related boards, was a telling example of the genre. In a nutshell, their argument went something like this – writer/reviewer: books in Australia are too expensive; publisher: no, they’re not.
At the time, I had a sneaking suspicion that I had timed my career in the book industry spectacularly badly: just as the people who should be arguing with passion about anything less mercenary are now debating price-points. But it is clear that at the heart of this discussion (and countless others like it) is in fact a great deal of meaning-of-life type stuff, it’s just that many book lovers don’t know it yet.
So why are Australian book prices such a hot topic right now? The answer is The Book Depository.