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Monday musings on Australian literature: eBook publishing in Australia

July 18, 2011
Sense and sensibility book covers

Printed and eBooks for Jane Austen's Sense and sensibility

First off, the disclaimer: I don’t know a lot about what is happening with eBook publishing in Australia, so my goal here is as much to find out more from readers of this post as it is to impart knowledge.

I thought a good place to start would be the Australian Publishers Association (APA) but didn’t find a lot to excite me. The Association has 11 committees, but a search on “electronic” on the page listing these committees brought up only two which include electronic publishing in the description of their goals/activities – the Tertiary and Professional Publishers, and the Scholarly and Journals Publishers! Oh dear that’s not looking very proactive. Maybe they just haven’t updated their info on the APA website?

Because trade publishers are producing electronic versions of their books. Text Publishing, for example, told us in their February newsletter about the eBooks service being offered by independent Melbourne bookseller, Readings. Text wrote that:

In collaboration with local software developer Inventive Labs and SPUNC (the Small Press Network about whom I’ve written previously), Readings is now able to offer Australian ebooks that are readable on any device, from phone to PC to dedicated ereader.

Readings was, apparently, the first independent bookshop in Australia to offer locally published eBooks to its readers. This means, for example, that works by such Text authors as Peter Temple, Kate Grenville, Kate HoldenToni Jordan, and Madeleine St John can now be bought from Readings in electronic format (using, as I understand it, the book.ish service. This is a bit of a problem for Kindle users who, I understand, can only access book.ish eBooks online).

Back to publishing though. A year ago, in July 2010, a report by Jenny Lee titled Digital Technologies in Australia’s Book Industry was published. It was prepared for the Book Industry Strategy Group and is 72 pages long. I have only skimmed it. It looks at the whole supply chain – Authors, Agents, Publishers, Printers, Distributors, Retailers, Libraries, and Readers – but my focus here is on publishers because, arguably, they are the critical point in the chain. What Lee found regarding publishers – a year ago so things may have changed – was that electronic publishing (and delivery) is strongest in the scholarly and higher education area. Well, that’s not surprising given what I found at the APA website is it? Regarding trade publishing she wrote:

Publishers of consumer/trade books have generally been hesitant about producing ebooks because of concerns about piracy and price, but many are now producing a selection of books in electronic form and in some cases making them available through their websites.

And so, it is starting, albeit slowly and moving from publisher websites to sellers like Readings.When the Kindle first appeared, we Australian readers complained about the lack of suitable content, particularly Australian content. More Aussie content is available now, but I’d love to know what readers here think. Is enough available? How do you know what is available? Is it available on the format you want and at a price you are happy to pay? I expect to return to this issue, but would love to know what people are finding now (here and in other countries).

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2011 9:40 pm

    It seems odd, to me, to think of one country lagging behind another with this kind of technology because people will always find a way to get around restrictions if they want to badly enough. Seems to me the Australian [e]book industry would do better to jump fully on the bandwagon, rather than risk people opting for illegal downloads of books available in other countries?

    • July 18, 2011 9:45 pm

      Excellent point. My reading suggests that one of the reasons they’ve been slow is fear of piracy BUT I think you’re right that tackling it head on would be a better way to do.

  2. July 18, 2011 10:49 pm

    I honestly feel that the independent publishers will lead the way on this one. (disclaimer: I am about to be published by an indie press)

    The large houses are lead by committees that have share prices as their main concern — with good reason when you consider Borders… Yet the a small press can take risks they cannot.

    A good example is Dragonfall Press ( http://www.dragonfallpress.com ) Which is small, aussie, sci-fi/fantasy focused and just starting out with competitive priced ebooks devoid of all DRM.

    Did I mention that they are publishing my book sometime this year?

    Insert shameless self link: magickless.blogspot.com

    T.B.

  3. July 18, 2011 11:17 pm

    Welcome TB, thanks for your contribution and for the honesty of your disclaimer. I think you are probably right – despite your bias (!) – if the role of SPUNC (small publishers) and Readings (indie bookseller) is indicative. It’s often the small fry that do the exciting things isn’t it?

    Good luck with your book. I’m afraid I’m not a fantasy reader – haven’t even read The lord of the rings (shocking I know) – but I do know many who read fantasy. Some will read this post and will hopefully check you out.

  4. July 19, 2011 1:32 pm

    Quite a bit of old Australian literature is available on the Australian Gutenberg site in ebook format. But I must admit, as I don’t tend to read Australian literature, I’m not all that fussed about the lack Australian ebooks. Fantasy and Science Fiction small publishers seem to be the most forward in offering ebooks. I’ve purchased several from Weightless Books, an ebook site in the USA representing a group of independent publishers.

    • July 19, 2011 3:20 pm

      Thanks Anne. I was focusing on commercial publication but it would have been good to have mentioned this nonetheless – so thanks for doing though. I think you’re right, as TB has also said, about fantasy and sci fi publishers.

  5. July 20, 2011 12:46 am

    If it is any consolation, in the U.S. it is scholarly and higher ed publishers that have jumped on the e-book bandwagon and the regular commercial publishers who are dragging their heals for the same reasons they are there. Publishers are so concerned about piracy and losing money that they lock e-books down with DRM and don’t even let you own them, effectively shutting down the fair use doctrine in U.S. copyright law. Publihsers here are saying they’ve learned from the music industry but clearly they learned the wrong things. Sometimes it seems like their goal is to make it as hard as possible to get e-books. And forget trying to lend one to a friend! It’s a frustrating mess and is the reason I only read public domain e-books.

    • July 20, 2011 8:56 am

      “They’ve learned the wrong things”! Love that Stefanie. Must say that I’ve “bought” only two eBooks so far: a travel guide to Japan so I wouldn’t have to carry a large heavy tome, and Sense and sensibility for about 89cents when my free one “clagged”. I’m getting close to buying contemporary ones but they seem expensive particularly given the restrictions on their use. If you have a kindle, over here, and you buy an Aussie novel from book.ish, you can only read it online which is a bit of a disincentive though I they say the online access to the Kindle is free. (I didn’t check whether that’s through Amazon’s whispernet or their own service as I decided that that’s not for me yet.) More work needs to be done, as you say.

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