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Where do you buy your books? It’s the looming question of 2011 for Australian publishers, authors and booksellers. A couple of years ago, we had a vibrant independent bookselling scene the envy of the world. Now, the party is fading fast: anecdotally, most Australian booksellers reported sales being down in 2010 – ‘I’ve never known it like this in all my career,’ Mark Rubbo, Readings managing director and independent bookseller for almost 40 years, told ABC’s Late Night Live recently. What has happened to our once-thriving indie bookstore scene? And what does this mean for a healthy Australian literary culture?

There is no single answer, of course. The Australian retail sector has slowed overall this past financial year (no Rudd money, increasing interest rates). The looming e-book and techno devices like Kindle, with sales directly linked to Amazon, pose a threat – how will their rise fashion our buying habits, and in turn affect bricks-and-mortar booksellers? But most significant is the hike in the Australian dollar, coupled with the bizarre government policy of allowing GST-free purchases of up to $1000 on overseas websites – making the heavily reduced prices of overseas-based retailers like Amazon and the Book Depository hard to resist.

We’ll be publishing an extended commentary on these issues in April. In an age of increased awareness about where our food and clothes come from, we reckon it’s essential to question how much, as conscientious book buyers, we are responsible for the changing shape of the Australian book trade. Kill Your Darlings is, after all, greatly indebted to the support and enthusiasm of our independent stockists across the country.

But it’s more than our individual viability: as lovers of quality and diverse Australian writing, we all rely on the continuity and prosperity of our great indie stores – who have for decades supported unknown Australian writers, built audiences, hosted events, created grassroots literary communities. Indie bookstores are also, as Richard Flanagan told his audience at the 2008 Sydney Writers Festival, ‘the path into which books from elsewhere that matter are introduced to this country.’

Issue Four begins with a subject of great social import that received almost no attention during the recent federal election campaign: the plight of Australian carers. Novelist and social commentator Emily Maguire draws a poignant, unassuming portrait of three Sydney women who care for ill or disabled family members, revealing the daily challenges for Australian carers ‘fighting for the right kind of help’.

There’s also commentary from Caroline Hamilton on Jonathan Franzen’s curious ambivalence to popular culture, and Olivia Guntarik writes about relocating from Borneo to Brisbane during the 1970s, from her memoir-in-progress. Salley Vickers chatted with Kill Your Darlings about her new collection of stories, Aphrodite’s Hat, and how psychoanalysis informs her writing. And we’ve published new fiction from Peggy Frew, Michael Sala and Louise Swinn. Jake Wilson takes a look at the cinema of Roman Polanski, and his latest film The Ghost Writer, while Hannah Kent muses on the allure of British songstress Florence Welch.

Happy New Year from all of us at Kill Your Darlings. We hope you enjoy the issue.