Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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After the Snapshot, Part One.

About half way through the insanity of last week, I realised what was fucking over the small press in Australia, and that is that there is no centralised distribution point.

In the real world, it's difficult to find some of the small press stuff. It's not impossible, but it's not just going to be there, either, for you to impulse purchase. For example: I've never seen a copy of Borderlands in a Sydney store. Not once. Now, might be that a few copies arrive, then disappear in a day, but I've only ever seen actual hard copy prints of the magazine in Canberra, last year, in the booksellers room at Conflux. And this isn't limited to just Borderlands. I've never seen a copy of Potato Monkey in my life (though it has been described to me), likewise for the Visions anthology that came out of Brisbane a few years back, and the last issue of Aurealis is so elusive that I couldn't actually find the cover online with a logo on it, much less a functioning website.

That's a problem, especially since I'm not talking about it from the point of view of a person here who doesn't go into specialty bookstores, and who doesn't exist in this little world. I do. Sure, I'm not the top of the range prowler of these stores, but I know them, and I figure if I can't find this stuff in Galaxy and Infinitas, then there's a problem.

But the bigger problem exists online. There is no central place to buy Australian Small Press online and that, I figure, is a larger problem than in the real world.

It might be that there is an online store I can buy from, but it doesn't appear in search engines and hides itself well, if that's the case. In addition, if you're a small press, it's not enough to have a website from which you can buy this shit. It just isn't. Firstly, from a business point of view, it brings in hardly any browsing traffic, and what it does bring in is primarily authors searchf or guidelines. The result of this is that most of your purchasing audience is made up of people who already know know you from the closed in community that exists. That means you can't expand in any great numbers and your audience will, thus, either grow or shrink in tiny numbers that are drawn from your existing audience. That translates into isolation, which is ridiculous for so many reasons, but lets just focus on reaching a new audience.

My example for this entry, I suppose, is Borderlands, so I'll continue using that. To buy Borderlands you go to the site and you toss up ten bucks. Fine, but that only brings in the audience who know about the site, and who read the limited reviews that exist on the web. You won't find the magazine in a casual search of the web, because the name has a generic quality to it that results in an online journal based out of Adelaide, a science centre, an encyclopedia, and a used book store, just to note to first four in google. But that's not so much of a problem, really, just pointing out how difficult it will be to stumble across it. Still, with its covers alone, Borderlands could be appealing to a different browsing audience, such as the one that purchases Voiceworks. (If you think it's shallow of me to suggest people would buy a magazine based off a cover, you're not really thinking it through. When people purchase something they have no history with, they're motivated by the physical pleasure of the object, a quick scan of its contents, and reviews. When they're right in front of something unknown, covers are important. They tip the hesitant one way or the other.)

Voiceworks, if you haven't heard of it, is a quarterly youth orientated mag out of Melbourne that publishes authors under the age of twenty five. It's currently sitting at issue sixty, which is about supporting independent bookshops, and if you sell a story to it, you'll get a hundred bucks (maybe more now). The other thing worth noting is that it gets funding from the Victorian Government under supporting youth activities or some shit, and when I last saw it, it had a couple of pages in the back dedicated to new markets for new authors, from print mags to little zines and anthologies. Now, Voiceworks brings in a young audience, and it's not an audience I'm that far removed from. If I was going to impulse purchase a magazine off the back of Voiceworks, it would be Borderlands, for whatever that means.

Binding Voiceworks and Borderlands together like this isn't incidental. I'm using it as an example to show you how a localised purchasing point of small press mags could potentially expand your audience. For a magazine like Borderlands that means there is a potential to reach people who are not part of the regular crowd of science fiction conventions, which, lets face it, has a tendency to be a shit load of authors and publishers and editors and the people who want to be one of those three.

But, moving outside the potential new audience you could reach (and that you might not), what the small press needs is a public hub from where you can buy books, just for the audience that does exist. The truth is, if it's difficult to buy something, people won't buy it. Project Pulp is great if you want to buy small press out of the States, but the idea that I can only buy a copy of something made in Australia from America is not what you would call a good choice, so there really does need to be something in Australia, and it has to have a larger visibility than Slow Glass Books, and avoid the vanity inspired bookstore that Donna Hanson runs at Australian Speculative Fiction. (If Donna is reading this: the website is ugly, but the biggest problem is the promotion of yourself through it. It gives the impression that when I purchase through there I am not purchasing through a store, but I am purchasing through Donna Hanson, and that everything bought there goes to help Donna Hanson and Donna Hanson's projects, the most public of these being the Australian Speculative Fiction Project and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Group. That puts me off. There's no nice way to say it. It puts me off.) I'm not sure if you can actually purchase things from the Queensland run Visions group zine or whatever, but it's affiliation to the Brisbane writing circle would work much the same way as Donna Hanson's site does. Any small press website needs to be free from the group affiliations in Australia, and run as a straight business to work.

But however I look at it, there needs to be a central hub to buy this stuff. A public entity that people can find easily. The small press is cutting itself off at the knees by not having one... and if one exists, it needs better advertising. I just spent a week crawling through the web for images and sites you can buy this shit from, and I couldn't find one.
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