Like Christmas in the trenches, all hostilities were suspended last night as the local book industry got together for the Australian Book Industry Awards. Although fighting will resume after the upcoming release of the Productivity Commission’s report into parallel book imports, warring sides got together last night to highlight the achievements of an industry that actually had revenue growth of 8% this year. Although the “Twilight” books account for most of that, any growth in these recessionary times is an achievement, and last night was a celebration.
These awards, which recognize literary and commercial success, are voted for by an academy of 150 publishers and booksellers. MC for the night was the impossibly glamorous crime fiction author Tara Moss, who said that as she had been “knocked unconscious and set on fire” while researching her books, she was hoping for a less violent experience as MC, “although the night is still young”.
Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, published by Allen and Unwin, won Book of the Year and Literary Fiction Book of the Year. In his acceptance speech, Tsiolkas, looking down at fellow prize-winning authors Nam Le and Shaun Tan, said that the “wogs” were coming to take over, while Judith Lucy, who won Biography of the Year, thanked her parents for stuffing up her life so she could write a book about it.
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Childrens’ author Mem Fox gave an entire acceptance speech following the letters of the alphabet — “A is for Acceptance” “B is for Books” — while one of the most popular recipients, Gleebooks co-owner David Gaunt received a standing ovation after his acceptance speech for winning the Lloyd O’Neil Award for outstanding service to the Australian book industry.
The Sofitel Wentworth ballroom was a sea of black, reflecting the ascendancy of the Melbournians. Penguin Group (Australia) won Publisher of the Year, Marketing Campaign of the Year (Popular Penguins, I’ve bought about 100) and the International Success Award for “various Sonya Hartnett titles”. Readings Books in Carlton won Independent Bookseller of the Year and Bookseller Marketing Event of the Year while Morry Schwartz’s high-profile Black Inc won Small Publisher of the Year.
There was much talk at my table about what to wear at home when you are writing — Addition’s Toni Jordan said she had “home uggs” for under the desk and “going out uggs” for when she left the house. Spending all day in her trackies did mean she loved to dress up, she said, occasionally leading to the accidental donning of a cocktail frock for coffee.
The Productivity Commission report is due to go to the Government by June 30 and will be released after that. It’s looking at whether to reform the current copyright law provisions which allow Australian publishers 30 days to publish an Australian version of any book that has been released anywhere in the world. If the book is published within 30 days, all booksellers are obliged to purchase the publication from the Australian publisher and cannot import the book from an overseas publisher.
The Commission received more than 270 submissions, the overwhelming majority of which were in favour of the status quo. Chief villain in this argument, the anodyne-sounding Coalition for Cheaper Books, says that allowing imports of foreign books would lead to cheaper prices for consumers. I hunted around last night, but couldn’t see anyone from the Coalition, which is comprised of (sniff) mass-market booksellers book-sellers Dymocks, Big W and Target and whose public spokesperson is Dymocks director and booklover Bob Carr.
Both sides may be overtaken by events, however, as electronic publishing and the Kindle take over from the printed word. Already, Australians have shown that they like to buy books on the internet – up to $100 million worth this year — will they take the next step and download a digital copy of a book onto an electronic reader?
Last night’s goodwill flowed on after the dinner at the Bligh Bar, where the team from Penguin won Most Popular Publisher by shouting the bar. Like Christmas in Ypres, all was peace and harmony. Today, however, the battle resumes.