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Monday musings on Australian literature: Qantas flight-length book deal

September 23, 2013

Some of you have probably sussed that Whispering Gums is not at her usual desk – and you’d be right. I’ve been travelling since mid-August, mostly in Europe, and will be back home in early October. I had hoped to read some books and write reviews while on the road, but somehow the reviews haven’t happened. One review is nearly ready though!

However, here’s something interesting I read just before I left Australia in AustLit news. It was about a Qantas initiative involving commissioning, from Hachette, a series of paperback books “timed to be read during 10 of Qantas’s main flying routes”. The series is called “A Story for Every Journey” and, AustLit reports, will be offered to Qantas’ platinum Frequent Flyers.

The books will cover popular fiction and non-fiction genres  –  the ones we often call “airport books”. The book lengths are based on average reading speeds, taking into consideration time for napping and eating – or so I read in an article at It quoted Mr Nobay, spokesperson for Hachette’s partner Droga5, as saying that

According to our literary friends at Hachette, the average reader consumes between 200 and 300 words per minute, which equates to about a page per minute.

This spokesperson also said that

for the longer flights, we accommodated some napping time and meals … After a few hours with a fine Qantas in-flight meal with Australian Shiraz, most people need a break from reading.

(Don’t you love the marketing?!)

AustLit said that one of the ten books – sounds like the initial plan is for ten – will be Kimberley Freeman’s Wildflower Hill which “has been suggested as the perfect read for travellers on the Sydney to Dubai route”. What a shame I didn’t have it when I flew that route a few weeks ago! I’ve never heard of Kimberley Freeman, which is apparently the nom de plume of Brisbane writer and academic Dr Kim Wilkins. Other authors include popular actor and author William McInnes, popular non-fiction writer Peter FitzSimmons and novelist Lian Hearn.

Anyhow, as goodereader comments

If this concept in reading takes off (pun intended) and if lawmakers insist on holding to strict regulations on the use of mobile devices during air travel, there is potential for a surge in not only print-reading, but also a shift towards more books being written with an intentional audience already in mind.

On my first reading of the initiative, I thought it was about commissioning books to be written for the purpose, but it sounds like it’s about identifying existing books that suit the criteria and re-packaging them for a new market. It may, of course, lead to books being written specifically for the market, as goodereader wonders.

I’m not sure I need to have books specially targeted to a set reading period, but I love the creative thinking behind this initiative. What do you think? Have you heard of anything similar?

20 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2013 7:09 pm

    Not quite the same thing, but “writing to order” none the less – you may have heard a few years ago the novelist Fay Weldon was commissioned to write a novel that included mention of a rare De Beers diamond that was about to be put on sale. Weldon (a former advertising copywriter herself) was unabashed at taking the highly lucrative commission, saying she was simply incorporating one theme in an already busily themed novel. Not sure whether De Beers sold the diamond subsequently….

    • September 23, 2013 10:25 pm

      Yes, Dina, and we tend to feel a bit squeamish about that don’t we … Though I suppose the quality of the end product is the important thing. I had heard, now you remind me, about that Weldon story. Do you know how the novel went?

  2. September 23, 2013 7:17 pm

    Somehow I get the shivers that I’m being manipulated !

    • September 24, 2013 7:51 am

      I can understand that reaction lazycoffees … But I think my attitude, perhaps naively, would be that it’s my choice and I could ignore it if I wanted. In the end all marketing of books or whatever is manipulation isn’t it?

  3. September 23, 2013 7:59 pm

    Very different approaches, I am sure, but the idea made me think of the University of Canberra annual book selection (which I understand copies similar initiatives from overseas universities).

    I do like the idea of UniCan (and others) generating a whole community of discussion around a particular book, and I guess there is potential for this to happen on a flight too. If Qantas picked a book a bit shorter than the during of your flight, even considering meal and rest breaks, you could conclude the journey with a discussion about the novel with your seat buddy, perhaps. 🙂

    Whatever they choose, it’s got to be better than most of the awful movies on offer. Last international flight I did I missed the end of the film because all of the in-flight announcements that paused my screen and didn’t give me time to finish. And I realised that there were only two possible endings and I didn’t care which one it was.

    • September 23, 2013 10:22 pm

      Now there’s an idea Dani. But, funnily enough, I was going to say that I often watch the movies these days. They’re not ideal and you have choose which movie, as I find anything dark – I mean with dark lighting like a lot of crime and thrillers – or complicated with lots of characters and plot complications are no goes. But on our last flight I caught up on Amour which we’d missed earlier this year. Mainly just two characters in one apartment … A quality movie that was easy to watch in that environment. I also often look out for interesting documentaries … And have found a few good ones, such as last time one about a European hip hop group. It was fascinating. The announcements can be irritating though I agree.

  4. Jim KABLE permalink
    September 23, 2013 11:17 pm


    Excellent idea by QANTAS!

    Travelling, too – my wife and I – now at Fethiye on the Western Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Reading Julian BURNSIDE’s compassionate essay of this past week on alienation and alien nation. And Patrick WHITE’s: 1986 – Memoirs of Many in One – by Alex Xenophon Demirjian Gray – lots of familiar places from this part of the world as the personas leap in and out of periods and masks. Once spent three weeks on what he calls Nisos – his sketch showing it to be Samos – of Pythagoras fame 2400 years ago. Just a short trip from Kusadasi/Ephesus.

    Lian HEARN (in real life Gillian RUBINSTEIN) new novel out in October – set in late 19th century Tokyo/Japan. Zeny GILES, too, new book in October: The Daughters of Castellorizo. Zeny’s mother was from Kastellorizo aged six to Australia in the 1920s. Yesterday we looked directly at it from this Anatolian coastline – just two kms from the Turkish port city/town of Kas.

    I read Romulus My Father by Raimond GAITA on the way from Incheon to Istanbul – and took in some movies – my catch-up and get-ahead chance with movies I find – the long haul flights.

    • September 24, 2013 7:17 am

      Oh, happy travels too Jim. I knew I’d heard of Lian Hearn … Have fixed the spelling. I haven’t read her but am of corse familiar with Gillian Rubenstein. Japan/Tokyo 19th century sounds good.

      I bet Burnside’s book is a great read. Must get to Turkey one day.

  5. September 24, 2013 12:08 am

    Are they going to provide the books on the plane or are they just going to be for sale (with an additional strong presence at the airport?)

    • September 24, 2013 7:19 am

      I don’t know Guy but it sounds as though they might be free on the plane or those top Frequent Flyers. They could surely also sell them to others? It will be interesting to see what happens.

  6. September 24, 2013 2:09 am

    sounds like a neat idea to get people maybe to read more plane books could have them in bands for length of flight ,all the best stu

    • September 24, 2013 7:22 am

      Thanks Stu … It sounds like they may have some different flight length categories. maybe it will be these three titles for Sydney-Dubai, these for Melbourne-Tokyo, and so on.

  7. September 24, 2013 3:54 am

    A clever idea I think especially since flying in America unless you are first or business class has become very much an unhappy sardine experience that feels always like the airlines are trying to get more out of you while giving you less service. That Qantas has even come up with this idea is great. I can imagine they might have the flight attendants selling a few books for the flight.

    Hope you are having wonderful travels. I look forward to hearing all about them when you return!

    • September 24, 2013 7:25 am

      It’s a bit sardine-like here too if you are Economy Class, Stefanie …and right now I’d find it hard to justify paying for Business Class, lovely though it is. Anything to reduce the discomfort though has to be a good thing eh?

  8. George permalink
    September 24, 2013 9:43 am

    Authors have always written to some length or another; the poet and translator Robert Fitzgerald suggests that the Odyssey falls naturally into six four-book sections, each requiring about four hours to recite, and that the four-book sections, being thematically related were likely the unit of performance. Would that Quantas had been around to give the guidelines to Victor Hugo!

    The problem is not with reading speed but with concentration. Fifty pages a day is a lot of fiction to read. And it seems to me that one must be young, tough, and rested to get through more than about 20 pages of philosophy in one day. The Quantas passengers may find that either they end the flight with the book half finished or remember the first half much better than the second.

    • September 24, 2013 3:42 pm

      Ah yes, I concur with much of what you say George. I find I need to have the right concentration to read these days more than I did in the past. And in general the things I like to read aren’t conducive to being read on trains and planes, though there’s the occasional exception. Young, tough and rested! Love it.

      Love your comment re Hugo, also …

  9. September 24, 2013 10:45 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this issue today, as I spent 16 hours in transit to get to NZ (long day, long story). Whilst I applaud incentives to get more people reading, and to publicise books generally, I think this is perhaps not fully thought out. Sure if they want to give out free books to their platinum Frequent Flyers, thats all well and good, but I wouldn’t sell it on this book is perfect for this length flight. What if you only get half way through the book during the flight? Are you a failure? I planned to read two books today, but only got half of one read, despite all the sitting and waiting around- screaming children take a toll, although perhaps that’s not such a problem in business class? I wouldn’t know. And I spent a bit of time reading a magazine I’d bought as well, which cuts into book reading time.

    • September 26, 2013 8:16 am

      Can’t argue with anything you say Louise. I love the idea but I’m not convinced it’s as simple as they think.

      Hope all is well?

  10. chillcat permalink
    October 7, 2013 6:35 pm

    I always take a book on a long or short flight, and choose one I know will absorb me totally. Nothing lovelier than shutting off with words and characters. I’m not sure I would like a book foisted upon me as I’m so fussy and my reading time is very precious (don’t I sound difficult?). My wish would be that short stories appear on the agenda – they provide great travelling material and give you a natural break to tuck into the Shiraz!

    • October 7, 2013 8:40 pm

      Yes me too … though lately I’ve found that I sometimes watch a movie instead. Thanks for mentioning short stories. I agree, they are perfect. Trouble is so many people have a mindset against them. They don’t know what they are missing.

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