In “Rudd ducks again: book import slug stays” (yesterday, item 3) Guy Rundle wrote:

The free trade/hayek/alcan foil hat nuts never acknowledged the real problem of remainders (saying that authors shouldn’t sign up to such contracts is ludicrous  – no one offers non-remainder contracts).

Alcan foil, yes, well, that would include me, I expect.

  1. I doubt it’s anywhere near as common as has been claimed to have an o/s remainder that’s still selling significantly at home.
  2. Even if one is, the owner of all those $1 copies has to reckon it’s worth shipping them down en masse to try to cannibalise those retail sales likewise. In the internet era, why anyone’s going to do that rather than set up a website and shift them direct to shop-around punters who’ll bear the freight costs themselves escapes me.
  3. Even if they make that commercially odd decision they’re hardly out of the woods in the “floods of cheap imports” stakes. Local publishers have the home ground advantage, ntm (presumably) the actual, um, author’s backing in squeezing out the interloper. So, for example, when Toni Jordan’s Addition got a local boost off her MF longlist here — even with thousands of unsold UK editions remaindered/log-jammed overseas — her local imprint released a sexy new version.I’d have backed them to easily fight off — commercially — any UK attempt to dump their surplus into the warmed-up market here. That is, local publishers aren’t commercially passive in this; nor do local sellers particularly want to poo in their local nests, presumably. The local industry — even including big bookchain sellers — is not some kind of bizarre unpeopled vacuum, run by automatons who want to hurt literature and screw our own writers. Is it? If so, it’s not government’s job to save your industry from itself.
  4. A) Re: those contracts you so haughtily dismiss: the way books are produced is changing in fundamental ways and that includes the deal side. Authors and agents are going to have to grasp — like everyone else has over the past 30 years — that contractual law and workplace negotiation actually matters on a singular basis, in a climate in which industry-wide protections are goners. “Standard contract” is the oldest hick’s dupe in the book. I just don’t think you are right, by the way, I think there are such things as “remainder pulp” clauses and … oh, look, what do I know, I’ve never even seen a publishing contract, have I? But it’s a contract. It’s a negotiation. Before you sign up, you fight to get what you can down. Write better books, get more negotiating grunt. I doubt Dan Brown has much trouble from cannibalising remainders. Could be wrong, Guy, me in my tin-foil hat.B) But this is not simply about authors and publishers, anyway. Far more important in the ugly and anachronistic matter of remainders are the downstream deals between publisher and through-distributor and outlets, etc. The big end of the industry has been lazy and self-interested — not to mention enviromentally criminal — in the matter of planned-for surplus stock for years. No other industry on the planet would get away with the sustained, built-in wastage of hard copy publishing.

    Game’s up, tree killers; way past time those who churn out tons of excess dead tree they know no one will buy; who ship them all over the joint at great carbon footprint; who pulp them after a month at yet more AGW cost, and start all over again … got their industrial poo in one sock and were made to take responsibility for — made to properly factor in the cost of — their unwanted dead tree products. Sorry, but that includes writers. (As for the Oz printing sector, why they aren’t madly tooling up to pwn the coming bespoke PoD era has got me buggered.)

  5. Finally, there’s us, the readers/buyers. Remember us? Just because we “can” buy a slightly cheaper US remainder doesn’t mean we “will”. Especially if we know what it means for the author’s income, which even if we don’t by now rest assured we’ll be made aware quick smart. Hey — maybe we’ve even taken all the sprayed cultural xenophobia of the last X years to heart, Oz writers; maybe we, um, don’t want to read Cloudstreet in an Yank accent any more than you want to write it in one, either.

Maybe we, um, are capable of making purchase choices with half a view to helping out Australian literature all our ownsome, i.e. without needing big mummy government rules to ensure that not only do we have no choice but to do so; not only are we told how to do so; but we are told to do so in an untransparent and, frankly, culturally railroading way that is also (just by the way) laughably inefficient, wasteful and misdirecting of that extra money we’re clearly willing to shell out. All such that — among much else, true — ambitious publishing players such as Lousie Adler and Michael Heyward can run around playing Important Cultural Icon & Big Swinging Publishing D-ck rolled into one. Champion.

Australian writers who we agree are in want of and worth subsidising don’t need these charismatic figures strutting around the joint in their name, and they don’t need PIRs. What they need is $20,000 put quietly each FY year into their bank accounts by the Literature Board with no questions asked. And then they need to be left the fuck alone, to write.

This stupid, stupid campaign by a handful of loud-mouthed industry egotists has just waved bye-bye to the PCs practically begging offer to throw more cash at Australian literature in just such a useful, efficient, targeted way. How many more would-be pens might we have thus funded with a greatly expanded direct allocation? 500? 1000? This decision is a rotten one, most of all for Australian writers. A real own-goal. Check out the “careful-what-you-wish-for” tone of that press release, and weep.

Jack Robertson is a miserable, bitter, nasty and vindictive failed writer who despises Australian publishers and more successful, famous Oz pens. He is also a Howard-hating, tin-foil hat wearer who contributed to and MS-edited Margo Kingston’s Not Happy, John! bestseller in 2004, receiving only a small payment (on-paid by Margo out of her own advance), and helping her publisher Penguin Australia market it for months online for zip.