Louise Swinn on the state of the publishing industry

We’re gradually getting the rest of the issue online and so I thought I’d draw attention to Louise Swinn’s investigation into the health of writing and publishing in Australian. Overland 194 was very much put together in the shadow of the GFC but, after talking to various writers, publishers and agents, Swinn reports a degree of cautious optimism. Here’s the beginning; the rest is here.

In the wake of the financial crisis, US publishing houses are announcing drastic staff cuts and a suspension on acquisitions. How will Australian books fare? It’s too soon to know and too difficult to tell. Kurt Vonnegut said, ‘If you make people laugh or cry about little black marks on sheets of white paper, what is that but a practical joke?’ and it remains to be seen whether the readers of the world will stop falling for it.

I conducted a brief reconnaissance of the Australian publishing scene to see how some of those involved in the local industry are feeling. I write fiction but I’m also a reviewer and a publisher at Sleepers, a small publishing house I co-founded, and so I am heavily involved in books and deeply concerned about their health. I’ve become a fan of Australian fiction, slowly but surely, over the twenty years since I moved from the UK. For the record, the first Australian novel that sent me to reader’s heaven was Amy Witting’s I for Isobel; the most recent was Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. Many books have driven me to distraction but I’m glad they were published and glad, too, that there is a market for them.

And there is a market for Australian books. Mark Rubbo, long-time champion of home-grown literature and managing director of Readings bookstores, reminds me: ‘In 1976, there was no Australian publishing industry.’ That’s thirty-three years ago − not long when you consider that two thousand years ago the Romans walked in intricately woven sandals. Rubbo describes himself as ‘pretty positive’ and, in the midst of a global economic crisis, that’s a remarkably upbeat response.

Read on.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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