THE 2007 Miles Franklin Award winner will be among hundreds of books no longer stocked by Australia's biggest bookstore chain, Angus & Robertson, from the end of next week.
Tower Books, which distributes Alexis Wright's novel Carpentaria, is among the smaller Australian distributors and publishers which have received a letter from A&R demanding a payment if they want their books to be sold by the company's 180 bookstores around the country.
The letter from A&R Whitcoulls Group's commercial manager, Charlie Rimmer, said "over 40 per cent of our supplier agreements fall below our requirements in terms of profit earned" and "invites" recipients to pay amounts said to range between $2500 and $20,000 by August 17.
"The payment represents the gap for your business and moves it from an unacceptable level of profitability," Mr Rimmer wrote.
"If we fail to receive your payment by this time we will have no option but to remove you from our list of authorised suppliers and you will be unable to complete any further transactions with us."
Well, of course, you want to ignore the outrage about the Miles Franklin not being in bookstores. It's a convenient little hook for the piece which, perhaps, will outrage some of the literary people round in the country, though you could get the same outrage by saying Where's Wally--or Where's Waldo for you Americans--will no longer be stocked; but the true problem is that this appears to have happened to a whole bunch of independent publishers, and what Australian literature doesn't need is something to make publishing local books even more difficult than it is.
However, it is a bit of a complex situation. Angus & Robertson have, of course, every right to not want to carry books that don't make them money. Business is business--and though I've no actual information on the chain store itself, in the local areas I live in, Angus & Robertson hasn't been doing to well lately. Small stores, less stock, less people--especially when compared to one of the large and new and shiny Borders that has opened. Maybe it's not the same everywhere, but, still, perhaps it is. However, on the other hand, it's difficult to blame independent press titles for not selling as well as mainstream titles, when the avenues of advertising within the store are not open to them. If I remember correctly, there was an article about bookstores--I think, in Britain--that detailed the costs that a publisher had to meet to get a display in the front store window, to get a display box, to be picked as a staff favourite, and so on. Whether or not that all happens in Australia is another thing, but I find it difficult to imagine that prominent display areas, window advertising, and other such tactics to sell books to the customer are not employed. And, of course, if you consider that, do you also consider how many independent press novels out of Australia do you see in these positions?
Anyhow, in truth, I've not got enough knowledge about how bookstores work to explain to you the ins and outs of this decision, or the larger ramifications, but it's a disappointing to see it happening, especially given that locally produced work has always struggled to be published and sold.