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Bookstore Cash

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.



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Aug. 8th, 2007 12:45 am (UTC)
If booksellers decide certain books aren't economically viable, they won't sell them. It's just a shame that people don't (yet?) have the same mentality about fringe literature as they do about fringe music.

Incidentally, do Borders have an in-store Gloria Jean's at all their outlets? A while ago I decided to boycott GJ's owing to their Hillsong links (not that I was a regular anyway). The presence of an in-store GJ's in the Canberra Centre Borders means I'm boycotting that Borders as well. Frankly, the sf&f range there is amazingly shit anyway.
Aug. 8th, 2007 12:50 am (UTC)
literature has never been as cool as music, sadly.

anyhow, i don't think every borders has the instore GJ. i could be wrong, though--i don't spend a whole lot of time in them, but i think the one local to me is free from it. or maybe it's just in the upstairs section, and i never go up there, since it has horribly over priced music and dvds up there.
Aug. 8th, 2007 05:15 am (UTC)
Yeah, but is it perhaps an issue of expectations? People seem to expect "writing" to be a viable career, or at least dream of that outcome, but the average small-time band doesn't, really. They just play when they can get a gig and hand out CDs painstakingly burned and sleeved by hand to friends and relatives. And they accept that if what they write has interest only to marginal groups, it probably won't sell much or at all, or receive mainstream distribution.

Aug. 8th, 2007 06:20 am (UTC)
i've no idea what outside expectations of writing are. i've spent way too long stuck in the reality of it...
Aug. 8th, 2007 01:18 am (UTC)
I'm afraid the writing has been on this wall for awhile now. When K-mart, Big W, Target etc started selling books, it put the frighteners on the rest of the book selling industry big time cos they knew they couldn't match the prices and still turn a profit (those other stores can afford to sell Harry Potters & other best selling titles at a loss just to get you into the store where they hope you will go on to buy your underwear, socks etc.)

Like it or not, the Internet & conventions will soon be the only place to buy small press books.
Aug. 8th, 2007 01:35 am (UTC)
do you use the agog icon when talking about publishing things?
Aug. 8th, 2007 01:37 am (UTC)
yeah, if I remember.
Aug. 8th, 2007 01:41 am (UTC)

anyhow, yes, i do agree that the net and conventions will soon be the only place of the independents. it's a real shame, too, especially here, where so much of the mainstream lit is from other countries.
Aug. 8th, 2007 01:44 am (UTC)
With Paypal, selling books on the Net is really easy. Much easier than hand selling them to invividual book stores ever was. Only problem is convincing folks to buy em.
Aug. 9th, 2007 04:20 am (UTC)
You might be interested to read the actual letter from A&R to Tower Books, published in Crikey today: pdf.

The reply from Michael Rakusin is absolutely fantastic, but it's behind Crikey's paywall (I subscribe so I could read it)... I could copy & paste it in here, but I dunno - this is a publically viewable site. The long & short of it is "Fuck off you smelly cunts", but it's marginally less rude, and goes into a fair amount more detail...
Aug. 9th, 2007 06:34 am (UTC)
The whole thing was reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald, so now the whole world can see it:

Aug. 9th, 2007 06:39 am (UTC)
Awesome. Thanks - can show to other friends now!
Aug. 9th, 2007 08:23 am (UTC)
it's good to see, too. it was interesting to hear that angus and robertson had tried this before.
Aug. 9th, 2007 08:22 am (UTC)
sweet. thanks.
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