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Globalisation and the death of literary Australiana

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Baffling or flattering?

April 20, 2011 4 comments

As if to add ammo to the fervent Marxists who’ve been criticising me for my slavish adherence to neoliberal economics lately [*], I’m going to admit that I’m a fan of The Economist on Facebook.

Not because it’s my favourite paper – I subscribe to the New Yorker, Private Eye and Crikey, and would subscribe to the Grauniad if it went PPV – but because it’s interesting, shapes debate, has a good Facebook presence, and the Facebook comments mechanism gives a better view of “what people think” than the “solely for ubergeeks and psychopaths” den of web comments.

One of the things that I’m looking at right now, both academically and professionally, is the challenge presented by dealing with things that have historically been marketed and customised territory-by-territory in a social media environment that’s global. The Economist provides an excellent example, since every week, it lists its covers on the Web.

Now, if you don’t commute far too often between the US and Other Places, you’re probably not aware that the Economist has covers in the plural: both in the US and outside the US, it purports to be a global newspaper (and, compared to US newspapers, it has a fair point). But it isn’t: there’s a US edition with specifically US-focused content, ads and cover, whereas the global edition only has a US cover if the most exciting thing occurring is actually in the US.

If the Economist admitted to its US readers “yes, actually, we do realise you’re a bunch of insular tits just as much as the rest of your countrymen; stop pretending you’re some kind of cosmopolitan international relations knowall just because you read a paper written by slightly-right-wing people in London instead of raging-right-wing fanatics at home; and we all know we only bother printing international news at all in the US version because otherwise we’d lose our USP; we know perfectly well – and it’s clear from our ad placings – that none of you lot read it”, then it might just about risk losing some of its mystique as an international oracle. Which would kill its whole point

So for the Economist’s Facebook presence, where discriminating between visitors from different countries is hard, it definitely wouldn’t want to show a separate “US Edition” and “World Edition”. That would break the spell.

The way it has dealt with this is ABSOLUTELY FUCKING BRILLIANT. Every week, it adds a “Worldwide Excluding the UK, Europe & Asia Edition” and a “UK, Europe & Asia Edition“. That way, Americans – who are sufficiently geographically disendowed to realise that the world, in any meaningful sense, consists of North America, Europe and Asia – can keep the illusion that they’re reading the World Edition, unlike those silly Europeans and Asians who’ve got a customised edition to suit their own parochial concerns. And we (Asia edition is sold in Aus and NZ, obviously) can work out the conceit and laugh at the Americans.

Overall, this is a great win. Except for the poor sods in Canada, South America and Africa, who presumably have to make do with the lobotomised edition containing news that’s irrelevant. Although I suppose for the South Americans it might help them understand when they’ll next be invaded by CIA-backed guerrillas.

[*] my slavish adherence consisted of making the claim that “pretending that basic economics and tax are hard, if you’re someone who purports to understand postmodernist literacy criticism, is embarrassing”. This isn’t because I rate one over the other, but simply because both neoclassical and Keynesian economics are Very Easy To Follow, whilst Derrida and Deleuze are The Opposite.