Crikey reporter Sophie Black writes:

A fight is brewing
among the book worms at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, with Crikey
learning that after twelve years, Reader’s Feast has been
unceremoniously dumped as official bookseller to the festival, to be
replaced by Readings.

The role of official bookseller to such
a large and well known festival, which is 21 years old this year, not
only wields kudos, it’s lucrative. Under the deal, every book that’s
purchased at the festival comes from the bookseller and their stores
also host signings and readings featuring the Festival’s guests. The
annual event, held every August, presents around 250 writers to over
35,000 readers over ten days.

But most importantly, the
literary industry is very big on prestige and it’s the promotion and
free advertising that the bookseller receives that’s really at stake.

Rumour
has it that the longtime official bookseller was not directly informed
of the decision and Reader’s Feast manager Mary Dalmau told Crikey,
“We’ve been the bookseller under contract for 12 years and it is a fact
that we are currently seeking legal advice…”

Readings owner Mark
Rubbo, who was involved in establishing the Festival back in 1986,
confirmed to Crikey that his chain of bookstores, a Melbourne
institution, would be the official MWF bookseller for 2006, although he
admitted that at this stage it’s only a verbal agreement.

It
won’t be confirmed “for two or three months because under the contract
with Reader’s Feast they have to be given three months’ notice”, says
Rubbo. ” I think it’s been amicable, I think they [MWF] just wanted a
change … And I’m very excited for sentimental reasons.”

Festival
chairperson Jan McGuinness told Crikey, “Our agreement with Reader’s
Feast is up for renegotiation. It’s an agreement that runs every three
years and it’s up for negotiation and we’re looking at all comers.” New
festival director Rosemary Cameron wouldn’t elaborate on any ill will
on Reader’s Feast’s part either, telling Crikey, “We’ll make an
announcement at the end of May.”

Former Director Simon Clews
departed from the Festival last year after fourteen years at the helm,
replaced by former Brisbane Writers’ Festival director Cameron. Some
publishing insiders see the change of booksellers as another step in
the sweeping reform.

Peter Fray

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