tip off

Comments, corrections, clarifications, and c*ckups

Tower Books responds to A&R:

Tower Books director Michael Rakusin writes: Re. “Angus & Robertson responds: setting the record straight” (Friday, item 22). I have read Mr Fenlon’s somewhat disingenuous letter with growing incredulity at the sheer dishonesty of its contents. Perhaps the best way to “set the record straight” is to ask Mr Fenlon some unequivocal questions and hope that he will answer them directly. 1) How does Mr Fenlon explain the incongruity between his claim that he has 1200 suppliers and has sent letters to only 47 of them when the Australian Publishers Association says that more than 70% of APA member publishers have been contacted by A&R, either directly or via their distributor? Would Mr Fenlon like to explain how many of these 1200 suppliers are Australian book publishers or distributors? 2) Mr Fenlon says, “I completely acknowledge that the tone of this correspondence was inappropriate, and I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight on our intentions.” Does Mr Fenlon intend writing to the “47 of those with whom we hope to hold discussions” to apologise for the offence caused? Or does Angus & Robertson not apologise? 3) Does Mr Fenlon understand the subtle difference between the word “negotiation” and “ultimatum”? Can Mr Fenlon point out where in the original letter there was any indication whatever of “negotiation”? Since when are the time and place of “negotiation” dictated by only one party in the negotiation … and readers, please note, the date chosen by the now internationally-famous Mr Rimmer just happened to coincide with the date on which Borders is holding its annual major presentation to Sydney publishers. 4) Can Mr Fenlon answer a small timing conundrum contained in Rimmer’s letter? Payment of the now equally-famous invoice to be effected before or after the proposed “negotiations”? 5) Since Tower books has been quite open about our turnover with A&R, would Mr Fenlon like to be equally open and tell us exactly what profit margin per book A&R made out of our titles for Financial 07? Would he then like to disclose the equivalent profit margin per book from the new Harry Potter title? And having done this, would he please explain how his relationship with Tower Books is “not commercially viable”? 6) Lastly, a very simple question: will A&R customers still be able to buy the 2007 Australian Miles Franklin Literary Prize winning book? A simple yes or no will do. Finally a tip for Mr Fenlon: in the book industry, we don’t talk about “30% of top selling lines “.

What a load of self-serving twaddle from A&R:

Publishing industry insider with 20 years’ experience writes: What a load of self-serving twaddle from Angus & Robertson’s Dave Fenlon in Friday’s Crikey. The chain’s blackmailing of small publishers may not be “intended” to impact Australian authors, Dave, but it’s been made pretty clear that it will. And 30% of your top-selling lines are Australian, so that demonstrates your commitment? Where does this figure come from? Can you name the authors? By definition, they’re your top-selling titles, so it’s Bryce Courtenay et al. Not a great commitment to Australian writing there, Dave. The “increasing pressure” you are under as a retailer is the same pressure that every bookshop in Australia is under, but they haven’t turned around and tried to blackmail small suppliers. The “in-store author events” and “personal relationships” you tout as being so important to A & R are also the same events and relationships every other bookseller in Australia does, and does better than you. Once again, they haven’t turned around and tried to blackmail small suppliers. The fact is, if your company stores made a cash loss this year, it’s because you’re running your business inefficiently! Every publisher in Australia knows your buying office is a shambles. Every couple of months for as long as I can remember we’ve had another email saying you have restaffed or restructured the buying team. Every couple of months you change all manner of core procedures. This is complete incompetence, in business terms. All the publishers know this, which is why the reaction to your blackmail has been so intense. Sort your own business out, Dave, before you start to attack suppliers with gouging new terms. I am personally delighted this matter has gathered so much publicity. It’s just another example of how market-dominant corporates think they can just trample over everyone. Consumers can vote with their feet and wallets. If you made a cash loss this year, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I just feel sorry for the poor franchisees, who will suffer from the consumer backlash while getting none of the supposed “benefit” (punters don’t know which stores are franchise and which company-owned, of course). At least it will be further evidence that the good franchisees should leave the group, if they needed any more evidence. And if the media realised that other large corporates such as Borders attempt the same business practices with their suppliers, albeit in a much subtler way, we might be some way to giving the consumer some idea of the nature of the industry. And well done to Chris Burgess from Leading Edge. Now there’s a buying group which knows how to run a business…

You got it so wrong on the Morgan poll:

Ian Close writes: Re. “Rates up, government vote down: Morgan” (Friday, item 1). Dear Crikey, much as I love you, you really need to tighten up your copy-editing sloppiness. Friday’s lead item on the latest Morgan phone poll gets it so wrong from the headline onwards as to make the story meaningless: “Government vote down: Morgan” says the headline: no, the government two-party preferred vote and primary are both up. “The government [primary vote] is down 1.5% to 36.5%”: no, it’s up 1.5% to 36.5%. Neither change in TPP or primary vote is statistically significant. Really, it’s just a matter of following a press release. Roll over Dennis! At least you provide a link to the source, unlike mainstream media sites.

Chris Hawkshaw writes: Christian Kerr has the latest Morgan figures wrong, which also messes up your slug line. The Coalition vote is up 1.5%, as is Labor’s. Not down. Look at the maths in the figures he quotes. Doesn’t add up. All well within the margin of error anyway, which nobody ever flags. Sigh.

Well done Father Bob:

Nancy Lee writes: Re. “Father Bob Maguire: ACL just one brand of morality” (Friday, item 11). I think your item by a Catholic priest was of the best I have seen, I am not a Roman Catholic but a confirmed protestant. Congratulations for publishing same.

Indignant screams about the ACL function:

Paul Gilchrist writes: Re. Sealed God and P-rn section (Friday, items 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12). I read the indignant screams from your five correspondents about Howard and Rudd daring to speak to a group of Christians at the ACL function. Hey, gals, guys and Father, take the proverbial cold shower, what are you so upset about? What are you worried about most, that there are too many Christians or that the politicians are listening to them? According to the census, from 2001 to 2006, the percentage of “no religion” rose from 15.5% to 18.7%, while the percentage of Christians dropped from 68% to 63.9%. Despite the trend away from Christianity, it’s not hard to see why the politicians might like to listen to them. By the way, just a couple of comments on the ideas of your correspondents - “P-rnography is consensual and legal”. I suppose the girls in the films come from comfortable backgrounds and, after a long career, when the sag lines start showing, they retire on their comfortable super. Or maybe the story is usually a little different to this? “Hillsong is Prosperity Theology”. Perhaps - I come from a bog-Irish Catholic background myself and know nothing about them, but they deserve better than this superficial dismissal. Then your correspondent complains that the PM said “we each have a divine obligation to use our assets to maximum benefit”. Well, actually, yes we do. Of course the “talents” shouldn’t be read simply as meaning cash, but the Christian message clearly says that we should be involved and active and not just look on from the sidelines.

God is round?

Phil Lynch writes: Re. “What’s the big deal about lobbying Christians?” (Friday, item 8). “God’s been round for ever.” Thank you Christian Kerr for the first real forensic clue to God’s likeness. Knowing that he (or she) is round is a start — now we can get on with sorting out the rest of the description.

Devoid of any thoughtful analysis or debate:

Michael Brougham writes: As a long-time Crikey squatter, the argument could be made that I have little authority to complain about the articles Crikey chooses to send me for free, but the selection you’ve provided on Friday certainly didn’t inspire me to cough up for a full subscription. Regardless of whether one agrees with his central contention, Christian Kerr’s little piece on politicians lobbying Christians was completely devoid of any thoughtful analysis or debate. Christian concludes that, because lobbying by politicians is nothing new, we should “get over it”. “It’s nothing new” doesn’t constitute a reasoned argument for or against anything; cannibalism isn’t new either, but I for one am firmly anti-cannibal, regardless of their long and proud history. If the idea of having squatters is to convince them to become subscribers, you might need to offer something beyond the unsubstantiated opinion available on any number of amateur blogs. At least amateur bloggers don’t expect to be paid for writing rubbish; I could have written Christian’s article on a napkin in my coffee break, I don’t see what incentive there is for me to pay for him to do it.

Things not that bad in voterland?:

Alan Hatfield writes: Re. “Howard might still be the real thing” (Friday, item 3). And, in response to the comments from Christian Kerr’s punter holidaying in Port Douglas, from another punter in the western suburbs of Sydney … Just got an e-mail from my bank telling me about the higher interest rate I will are paying on my loan. Disaster! The contributions to my super fund will need to be reduced, too. Will I ever be able to afford to retire? I have not got a tax cut because my salary is now so low that I hardly pay any tax on which to get a cut. I assume that Allan Moss doesn’t have this problem. A new computer would cost me less than half of what it cost a year or so ago - if I could afford to buy one. Everyone’s shares are way up. So are their dividends. Wish I could have afforded to buy some last year. And the value of my (mortgaged) house is falling while the cost of my mortgage on it goes up. I remember having holidays when I was kid but we can’t afford them now. Even getting to work is a challenge with hardly any public transport out here. I blame John Howard.

Frank Golding writes: On Friday Christian Kerr concludes that “Things aren’t that bad out in voterland” because a subscriber told him: ING will pay him higher interest rate on his savings; the earnings of his super fund will be going up, he’s just got a tax cut, his new super-duper laptop is costing less than half the old one, his shares are way up as are his dividends, the value of his (un-mortgaged) apartment is skyrocketing and he is holidaying soon in Pt Douglas. The subscriber blames John Howard. My 20-year-old has no savings, no super, no tax cut, no laptop, no shares, no apartment and no holiday. He blames John Howard too. They both get one vote.

It’s hardly new:

Peter Douglas writes: Re. “Crikey’s editorial and Rudd’s “me too-ism”” (Friday, comments). I am struck by the short memories of your editor and correspondents. Rudd’s small target policy looks more and more like that of Howard in 1996. I don’t like it from either of them, but it’s hardly new.

Dude, where’s my capital expenditure?:

Cameron Sharrock writes: Re. “Exposing the federal and state accounting rorts” (Friday, item 14). Stephen Mayne said this: “The states seem to pretend infrastructure spending isn’t a budget item.” Dude - infrastructure spending is not a budget item because it is a capital expenditure. The federal government also doesn’t count infrastructure spending - and if it did it would not have any precious election-year surpluses with which to overcook the economy and spark interest rate increases. Interest payable on infrastructure spending is a revenue item, as is any depreciation of the infrastructure itself, but to count the total amount of capital outlay as a budget item in the year it is “spent” (or borrowed) is as ludicrous as expecting the board of Macquarie bank to take you seriously at one of their AGMs… Come on.

Giving up isn’t Gunns’ style:

Mark Freeman writes: Re. “Turnbull and the pulp mill: destinies entwined?” (Friday, item 15). We keep hearing lines like Thomas Hunter’s on Friday ”asking for more information on environmental compliance will lead to delay and greater cost, prompting Gunns’ to abandon the project…” I doubt that Gunn’s have any intention of giving up any time soon regardless of regulatory or political issues. Why should they? And anyway giving up isn’t their style. So they end up building it somewhere else, and a better one - good. I’ve only visited the Tamar Valley briefly, but with the way air pollution already hangs in the valley it doesn’t seem a good area for heavy industry.

The economic competitiveness of Australian culture:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Literature’s struggle is in the market, not education” (Friday, item 5). Jeff Sparrow raises the dilemma of the economic competitiveness of Australian culture. The essential problem is that Australian books, films etc have to compete with British, American, and other Anglophone products which are effectively dumped on the local market after having covered their costs in their much larger home markets. This is obviously a no-win economic situation for Australia, confronting it with the extinction of any local culture. However, the obvious antidote, the unquestioning public funding of any and every Australian artistic project, is obviously unaffordable and undesirable. The solution is to provide vouchers for the purchase of Australian books, movie tickets etc. This allows a local industry to survive without unending funding for culture that the Australian people don’t want.

Doing some sums:

Paul Cowan writes: Andrew Mack (Friday, comments) asks for someone to “do some sums” on the famous “8 cents a day” ABC budget figure. According to a Helen Coonan press release, the 2007-2008 “base funding” for Aunty is $543.5 million. The ABS has Australia’s population, at the time of writing, of 21,034,000 and some change; that makes for $25.84 a year each, or 7.1 cents a day. Quite cheap when you think about it; Kerry O’Brien’s foundation bill for a week would probably take care of my 25 bucks, for starters.

How did these people ever get academic jobs?:

Pattie Tancred writes: Re. “Auckland academic to student: Dad’s dead? I don’t believe you” (Friday, item 18). I’ve noticed that many pieces in Crikey penned by academics are written in English so execrable that I wonder how these people ever got academic jobs, and Dr Buchanan is another ripe example. I don’t know whether to pity the examiner who had to slog through Dr Buchanan’s PhD thesis, or to castigate the sod for awarding a higher degree to so shoddy a practitioner of English. Is familiarity with basic grammar, spelling and syntax no longer a requirement? At the very least someone should tell Dr B about the joys of proofreading. It is hardly surprising that students perform so poorly if he and many of his ilk are the examples they have to follow.

The air quality in Beijing:

Rob Pickering in Beijing writes: After reading Crikey with Humphrey Hollins’ comment about the state of the air quality in Beijing (Friday, comments), I must disagree strongly. I’ve lived in Beijing now for two months (another 22 to go before I can return to Australian blue skies - not that I’m counting) and find the air quality appalling at best. On the “blue sky days” as the foreigners call them (which are few and far between) it is true that the air quality is quiet reasonable. But this represents maybe four to five days a month at the most. All of the other days of the month are terrible in both the look and air quality in general. Some days I can’t see the park near my building (which is less than 200m away) for all of the toxic smoke, that’s merely the aesthetic of the city, if I’m silly enough to go for a run on those days you can guarantee that I’ll be home that evening coughing fairly consistently. How Australian (or any other countries) athletes are going to break world records in this air condition is beyond me and most other foreigners living in Beijing. In regard to the comments about locals not wearing masks, I suggest that perhaps Humphrey move away from the tourist or western areas of Beijing and step into the more traditional parts of Beijing, here it is not out of the question to see 60% of people wearing masks all day long. Beijing is a long way away from being ready to host the Olympic Games and the issues during the one year countdown to the Olympics are only the start. You have 19 million people in Beijing province potentially wanting to go into a tiny square already full of foreign diplomats and dignitaries, ordinary people were never going to see any of the celebrations. I sincerely hope it improves before the Olympics are held for the sake of the Olympic movement and the wonderful people of Beijing who deserve better.

Good luck with the move Crikey:

Scilla Rosenberg writes: Re. Friday’s editorial. Dear Crikey, to quote Omar Khayam;

The moving Finger writes
And having writ, moves on
Not all your piety and wit
Can lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

Hope that your move (moving finger) goes well and that you settle easily into your new quarters.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to boss@crikey.com.au. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

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