Last issue, I wrote about the nature of our book-buying habits, and how this impacts on Australian literary culture. As we go to print in late February, the discussion about where we buy our books is still raging. REDgroup, which owns Angus & Robertson and Borders in Australia, has gone into voluntary administration, which has left the fate of the 26 Borders and 103 Angus & Robertson locations in doubt, along with the future of their 2500 staff. The failure of Borders in Australia came the same week as Borders in the United States (a separate entity) filed for bankruptcy, amid soaring debt and reported difficulty in competing with online stores.
It’s timely, then, that Issue 5 leads with an article from Matthia Dempsey, editor-in-chief of Bookseller+Publisher (Australia’s leading trade-publishing magazine), on bookselling in Australia. Matthia offers a thoughtful angle on this debate, steering away from the recent polarising opinion pieces and ref lecting on her own book-buying habits. She considers whether Australian independent bookstores will survive, and why they deserve to.
There is much fuel left in this discussion and it will be very interesting to see how the repercussion of the REDgroup’s failure reverberates throughout the Australian book industry in the months to come. But there is no doubt that aspects of the book-trade commercial model require revision, and I wonder how quickly this adaptation will occur.
But what has struck me in this whole debate has been the absence of real conversation about the impact these closures will have on Australian publishers (the people who are, after all, investing money in the writers in the first place), often blamed for unfair prices. The simple fact of this current dilemma is that when bookstores close down, so too will publishers. Most Australian publishers don’t yet have the marketing strategies or resources to move their sales online. Behemoth online sites such as Amazon have dictatorial sales practices – demanding unreasonable discounts from publishers all around the world. Australian publishers are under as much pressure from the overseas online retailers as our local bookshops are.
This debate is about so much more than the price of books – it’s about whether you care about Australian writing and the continuation of it. Amazon is unlikely to care if a new journal has popped up; there’s little chance they’ll ever host author events in Australia, facilitate launches or spruik new local work to browsing customers. The Book Depository hasn’t shown much interest in small press initiatives, Australian literary prize winners or local literary festivals. This is what we need to consider when we purchase our books online. Sure, we may get them cheaper, but the richness of choice will certainly diminish over time. And that’s no good for anyone.
Ethical buying is considered elsewhere in this issue – Cristy Clark has written a personal essay about her conversion from veganism to ‘ecotarianism’, and the renewed sense of community in this lifestyle choice.
Charting very different territory, Emilie Collyer offers a moving account of her father’s alcoholism and his eventual death from related liver failure, and wonders if his chronic, long-term drinking was indeed ‘a form of suicide’. And Greg Foyster recounts a recent trip to Tasmania, to visit the site of his ancestors’ invasion of the island, and to see how his own culture is ‘faring in a foreign land’.
In an age of iPods and iTunes, Mark Hewitt investigates the quaint revival of the cassette tape, while journalist Petra Starke writes about her certain notoriety after blogging about Australia’s Next Top Model, which culminated in an invitation to a memorable television-industry party. Daniel Golding argues for the artistic and cultural merits of the videogame, while S.A. Jones chronicles the protracted battle of ‘owning the facts’ in that most famous of literary couples, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.
This issue also features fiction from Patrick Cullen, and newcomers Sonja Dechian and Eva Lomski. Kill Your Darlings also chatted with British novelist and critic Geoff Dyer, whose new book Working the Room was published earlier this year.
In Reviews, Fiona Scott-Norman remembers her girlish fascination with the 1970s television crime series The Professionals, and how it engendered her sexual awakening, while Margot McGovern candidly details her own object of obsession – Edward Cullen, the swoony vampiric lead of the Twilight books.
In other Kill Your Darlings news, after five stark and evocative cover illustrations, Jeremy Ley must leave our pages to pursue feature-film animation projects in India. We thank him warmly for his contribution to the publication, and for bringing the cover narrative of Kill Your Darlings to life. But every cloud has a silver lining and we are delighted to announce another exciting initiative. In the interests of supporting new and emerging illustrators and cartoonists, Kill Your Darlings will commission three individual artists for the next three issues (July, October and January 2012). We seek illustrations that will continue the Kill Your Darlings aesthetic while progressing and reinterpreting the new narrative thread introduced with this issue. All interested artists should contact us via email: [email protected] with a brief CV and relevant samples of their work. Check out our website for more details.
And finally, Kill Your Darlings would like to welcome Fionnuala Nugent, Zoe Dzunko and Marion Rankine to the team. Fionnuala is our Editorial Assistant, Zoe the new Marketing and Publicity Intern, while Marion begins as the Subscriptions Intern.