ALIA Dreaming 08 – ALS Breakfast – Thu – Margie Seale

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Patricia Genat to attend the ALS Breakfast during the ALIA Dreaming 08 conference. Over a lovely pancake breakfast we had a casual conversation with Margie Seale from Random House on publishing trends and the scene in the Australian industry.

Margie began by saying that she was impressed by our library websites and what we do with them, that they are not just about information.

The retail market for books has 3 major segments: discount department
stores like Kmart and BIg W, with 22% of the market, chain bookstores like Dymocks, Borders and A&R with 50% of the market and independent bookstores with 25%. The latter is a fast disappearing breed in the US, due to price competition, which has also resulted in a lack of diversity. In Australia, our markets is very vibrant, generally successful and still very diverse.

The Book Scan service has helped suppliers and publishers to recognise
trends and ajdust their business strategy on the fly as the trends are revealed.

The 2008 top sellers in Australia so far are: Ingredients, Underbelly, Change of heart by Piccoult and Breath by Winton. Last year it was The Secret, ahead of the adult edition of Harry Potter and the deathly hallows. For childrens books, this year so far has been Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyers and last year was Harry Potter. Interestingly, many of the attendees
were not aware of many of these titles, because they were mainly managerial staff.

At present, the big sellers in each of the markets are; Breaking Dawn in the chain bookstores, Very hungry caterpillar in the discount department stores and Gallup in the independents. The US top titles at present are New Earth – a republishing of Eckhardt Tolls book an the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. The same titles will follow here as our markket is similar to the US. In the UK, the top titles are A thousand splendid suns and the latest Delia Smith cookbook.

Across all 3 markets there are only 3 books in common in the top 10 bestsellers – Atonement, Kite runner and A thousand splendid suns. Australia and UK have 5 titles in common, Australia and US have 8 in common and the US and UK only have those 3.

The Australian market leans slightly towards the US in trends. If a title is going to work here though, it does so quickly. However, UK covers and formats work better here. Why? Margie believes because it is better quality, more stylish, more anglo is design. Our covers are more subtle, not so blatant.

An issue of interest to the book industry at present is the 30/90 rule, which is under review. The rule was introduced in the 1990s to allow certainty of copyright and to provide consumers with titles in a timely manner. Publishers buy rights for a territory so only they can bring the title in. This means that publishers had to publish that title within 30 days of it being
published in English anywhere else in the world. If it goes out of stock, publishers have 90 days to restock. If neither of these conditions is met the copyright is lost and the title goes back to the open market.

The government is reviewing this and looking at making Australia a totally open market, where anyone can bring in titles from anywhere at any time. The UK and US markets are not considering doing this at present.

Booksellers say that it will bring book prices down. Publishers are concerned that they will not be able to invest in new authors, because they wont have the certainty of their protected business to support the risk. It may also put Australian book printers out of business.

Drivers for this change? US currency makes US book prices look cheap. The
Australian Booksellers Association is in support of the change, although not necessarily all of its members. As for the book printing business, although colour printing is done overseas, 50-60% of Random Houses black and white printing is done in Australia. The rule has been reviewed several times over the years, so this is only the lastest in a series. It will be interesting to see what develops.

Margie Seale was an engaging speaker. It was interesting to hear the publishing perspective and see how it matched with the borrowing behaviours we see in our libraries.