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Globalisation and the death of literary Australiana

Anne Treasure has written an excellent piece on the impact of digitisation and globalisation on the publishing industry. The piece is global in scope, and works well in the context of UK and US publishers and writers.

The picture is more complicated in Australia, where the global shift creates an additional problem. Traditionally books by UK and US authors have been distributed in Australia by their domestic publisher’s local subsidiary, and sold at up to three times the price they sell at in the UK or US. This both cross-subsidised the publisher’s local list and kept prices consistent between foreign and local titles.

Now that people can get the new Donna Tartt from Amazon for $9.99 and have it delivered in a few days (or instantly on a Kindle), paying $35 to get it in a local bookstore becomes dramatically less appealing. So the previous subsidy to Australian writers – both in the sense of direct cross-subsidy from shoring profits, and in the sense of making domestic books price-competitive with foreign books despite having a far higher breakeven price because Australia is a smaller market – disappears.

In the new environment, Australian writers writing on topics of global interest can go to where the readers are and sell what they’re doing worldwide, and maybe do better than before. Australian writers writing on topics of primarily local interest have a problem.

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