The view from down under

Sometimes it’s handy to have an older sibling who is going through the rites of passage just a little before it’s your turn. 

The Australian publishing industry has been watching the US and UK in recent years, preparing for the exponential growth in demand for ebooks to hit. Ereader devices just haven’t been widely available in Australia, so while the demand for ebooks has been increasing, until recently the ebook market was less than 2 percent overall. 

That’s all changing now. Christmas 2011 was the first time ereaders were in most shopping malls for customers to touch, play with and buy. Until then, customers had been able to buy a Kindle only through Amazon’s US site. Now Kindles were available through the Woolworths-owned Big W stores and Dick Smith electronics. And we saw competition in the tablet market from the Kobo Vox, which was available through the Collins bookshop chain. Australians have been as keen as any to get their hands on iPads. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated 740,000 were sold between release and the end of March 2011. And remember, we are talking about a population of fewer than 23 million, spread over a vast continent with limited internet connectivity in many areas. We are still waiting for the Kindle Fire and we don’t have Barnes & Noble’s Nook, but there is a number of other devices that make up a small share of the ereader market. 

None of this is to say that Australian publishers have simply been biding their time. Most have been busily producing ebook editions of their backlist, and trying out new workflows in their editorial and production departments. And that’s not to mention rethinking entirely how marketing is done for products in these new channels. Many of the large and medium-sized publishers have been experimenting with app products or enhanced ebooks. But perhaps more importantly, some have been testing new business models entirely, such as Pan Macmillan Australia’s recently launched digital-only imprint, Momentum. 

So let’s watch as in this year, the National Year of Reading in Australia (how appropriate!), the demand for ebooks from publishers goes through the roof. One recent estimate puts publishers’ ebook revenue in Australia at on average 5 percent of their total sales. It’s anyone’s guess what this will be by the end of the year.

Against this background, I headed from Sydney to New York as part of the Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship (an award administered by the Australian Publishers Association for an Australian editor to spend ten weeks with US publishers). 

(Next blog will be my views on TOC conference in NYC.)


For a more detailed overview of data available for the Australian book market, take a look at Anna Maguire’s post from December 2011.