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The Return of Print?: Contemporary Australian Publishing


General Fiction, Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction Publishing 2000–13


In 2007, in the midst of a good deal of public noise about the fate of Australian literature and its apparent decline in publishers’ lists, school curricula and universities, I published an essay examining the state of Australian literary fiction publishing over the previous decade and a half, from 1990 to 2006 (Carter). My analysis was based on available statistics, although it also involved a good deal of creative massaging of the numbers given the paucity of reliable, publicly available records. I want to return to the same terrain now and to ask whether Australian fiction publishing in general looks in better or worse shape than it did at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and in particular to examine how the publication of literary fiction stands in relation to the full range of fiction publishing. My focus is on novels by Australian authors first published in Australia in the years 2000 to 2013.

What my analysis indicated back in 2007 was that the raw numbers of new novels published each year had risen and fallen but without any dramatic or sudden changes. After peaking in the years 1998–2000, however, there were signs of a significant decline from 2003 (Carter 238–39). Literary titles had followed a similar trajectory, with a strong showing in the second half of the 1990s followed again by steadily declining numbers after 2003. Despite the fluctuations in raw numbers, the proportion of literary titles to general fiction had remained fairly consistent across the period. Although there was a significant gap between the highest and lowest percentage figures—32% in 1990 and 50% in 2005—in general there were only minor variations in the proportion of literary titles to all new fiction titles, with most years distributed in the 42–46% range.

Overall the figures suggested a relatively stable situation for literary fiction, with only minor or temporary deviations from a norm of around 130–140 titles annually. But while this seemed to point to something less dramatic than a crisis for Australian literature or literary publishing, it also gave no indication of an industry or market expanding significantly, despite the rise in market share that local titles were claiming.1 Indeed it could have indicated a shrinking investment in literary fiction publishing. Output had fallen below the norm in the two most recent years surveyed, 2005 and 2006, while Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures indicated that revenue from sales of locally published fiction had contracted, from $118.5 million in 2002–03 to $73.1 million in 2003–04 (Carter and Galligan 3).2

A note on methodology is necessary at this point, not least because of the slippery category of ‘literary fiction’ at the centre of my analysis. My intention is to use the term without any evaluative dimension. In producing my figures I’ve paid no attention at all to my own or general critical estimation of the worth of particular novels or authors. Of course, in practice, the idea of literary fiction can scarcely be separated from a sense of cultural value, but within the institutions of publishing and bookselling it is used on a daily basis as a quasi-generic term. As Jim Collins has suggested, literary fiction has itself become ‘a kind of category fictionLit-lit’ (225). For a publisher to assign a particular novel to either a literary imprint or a general fiction list—as opposed to an imprint reserved for crime, romance or fantasy—is to make a judgement about kind, rather than quality, whatever evaluative assumptions might also be in play. The marketing department makes similar judgements when deciding how to, or even whether to, promote a book, as do booksellers when deciding how, where and whether to shelve and display individual titles.

Despite all the fuzziness of the term, Literary Fiction or General Fiction, and sometimes simply Fiction, will almost always be separated from other kinds of novels in publishers’ catalogues and in the bookstore, from Crime, Romance, Science Fiction, War Literature and other clearly marked genres. Although it is impossible to reproduce these industrial categories precisely—they vary widely in any case across different actors in the field—I’ve used the methodologies of the AustLit electronic resource in order to assign individual titles to generic categories.3 AustLit records novels using a set of generic tags, including ‘adventure’, ‘crime’, ‘fantasy’, ‘mystery’, ‘romance’, ‘science fiction’, ‘thriller’, ‘war literature’, ‘western’ and ‘young adult’ (YA). Individual titles can be assigned more than one such tag (‘science fiction’ and ‘thriller’, for example). Other works—in general those without a clear generic identity—are merely recorded under the heading ‘novel’, and this will include the bulk of literary fiction titles. Thus, exactly as I did for the 2007 exercise, numbers for literary fiction have been generated by subtracting titles that have been assigned one or more genre tag from the total number of novels published each year, with a small number of exceptions. The categories not excluded are ‘historical fiction’, ‘satire’ and ‘humour’, for these terms are applied to a significant number of literary as well as genre titles.

I’ve concentrated on fiction for adults and have thus eliminated children’s books. Totals with and without YA titles will be compared, though I’ve ignored the fact that the genre/literary distinction also operates within the YA field. By focusing on first Australian publication I’ve also eliminated reprints from the primary analysis, although these too will be considered in passing.4 Numbers for the years 2000–06 will vary slightly from those recorded back in 2007 because of additions and corrections to the AustLit database, especially with more comprehensive recording of YA and genre fiction titles.

The potential shortcomings of this methodology should be clear. It will eliminate from consideration as literary those crime, science fiction and other genre novels with serious literary claims, but to make these judgements is not important for present purposes. On the other hand the inclusion of historical fiction, satire and humour no doubt picks up novels that are at best marginal in literary terms. As a consequence the number of titles included as literary fiction is almost certainly inflated, but for the present exercise this is preferable to a narrow definition of the term. Indeed the advantage of my approach is precisely that it picks up novels that might not be considered literature in the restricted sense of the term but that also do not belong in any of the more clearly delineated genre categories—the middlebrow or popular novels that are not obviously genre fiction but that might never be considered literature, say in Roland Barthes’s sense of the term (‘Literature is what is taught’ (22)). The majority of these novels will almost certainly not get taught or reviewed, and many will never be displayed in bookstores, but they are published and read, if sometimes in very small numbers. Others will be high-selling commercial successes, probably hovering on the borders of a life in genre but making broader claims as well—one example, close to romance but not confined to it, is commercial women’s fiction such as Di Morrissey’s, Judy Nunn’s or Fleur McDonald’s novels (AustLit tells me that one of Morrissey’s novels is in fact taught in one university course with the revealing title ‘Australian Literature: Classic and Popular’).

The methodology, of course, depends on the skills and knowledge of AustLit indexers and the resources and methodologies available to them at different periods—and assigning genre categories is anything but a precise science. But the record of published titles in AustLit is the most comprehensive available and certainly the most easily manipulated as a large data set. As such it enables comparisons of similar data year by year across the period under consideration. It offers a high level of reliability for mainstream publishers and a good level of reliability for self-publishing and, in more recent years, digital-first, print-on-demand publishing and ebooks.

This essay will also focus on the publishers of Australian fiction: who are they? How are titles distributed among large and small, local and multinational publishing houses? And how has the array of publishers and outputs changed over the 14 years being examined? The 2013 merger of the two global giants Penguin and Random House—already the ‘two largest consumer book publishers in the world’ (Dohle qtd. in Publishers Weekly),5 and the second and fourth largest publishers of Australian literary fiction in the 1990–2006 period—is only the most dramatic in a series of mergers, takeovers and disappearances that have continued to characterise the industry over the last two decades.

First, though, what do the numbers show through to 2013? Figure 1.1 shows the total number of new fiction titles published annually in Australia compared to literary fiction titles.6


Figure 1.1 Literary fiction as a proportion of total new novels 2000–13

For the present I will concentrate on the 2000–12 period and turn later to what looks like an anomalous result for 2013. The 2000–12 figures, like those from 1990–2006, show a pattern of recurrent rises and falls within what seems overall to be a relatively stable publishing industry at least in terms of output. In most years the number of new Australian novels published is between 350 and 400, at an average of 379.4 new titles annually. Nonetheless, given the modest overall totals, the rises and falls are significant enough to warrant close attention, especially the four consecutive years of below-average output from 2005 to 2008, a pattern that was just beginning to be seen in the earlier study.7 Indeed the relatively high figure of 400 new titles in 2000 is matched only once—with 403 titles in 2004—until 2011, and all but two of the eight years from 2001 to 2008 are below average.8 Totals fluctuate downwards to a low of 325 in 2006, before beginning a steady climb from 2009.

The patterns are much the same if we exclude YA titles (Figure 1.2): an extended dip from 2005 to 2009 in this case, bottoming out in 2006 with 234 titles and returning to high numbers only in 2012 with 399, which is well above the average across the period of 293. Annual numbers for YA titles follow their own distinctive pattern, fluctuating between the low eighties and the mid-nineties at an average of 86.6, with the exception of one unusually low number in 2005 (68).


Figure 1.2 Literary fiction as a proportion of total new novels (minus YA) 2000–13

Similarly if we include reprints—a more important consideration for literary titles than for many other sectors—we see the same extended ‘basin’ from 2005 to 2008, with a reasonably steep decline from 507 titles in 2000 and 491 in 2004 to 371 in 2006 and 379 the following year. Again, while YA fiction has its own trajectory, excluding YA titles (Figure 1.3) does not change things dramatically: the high points of 2000 (413) and 2003–04 (406, 397) are followed by a decline to 2006–07 (270, 257), then a rise, with a bump or two, to 2012.


Figure 1.3 Literary fiction as a proportion of all novels (minus YA) 2000–13

How can we explain the dip in numbers from 2004 to 2012? The decline is not dramatic, but it is sustained over a number of years and the slide from 2004 to 2006 stands out. There are no clear explanations to be found in the broader economic picture, as the key indicators, such as business investment, employment and household disposable income, were all strongly on the rise (Battellino). Within the industry itself book sales and profits fell after the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) in 2000–01 but recovered in the following years. The value of all trade book sales grew annually by an average of 4.8% from 2001 to 2010, while the volume of trade book sales through Australian booksellers increased by an annual average of 6.4% from 2004 to 2010 (PricewaterhouseCoopers 13). Revenue for trade book publishers rose consistently over the same period, although other figures suggest a contraction in revenue from book sales from 2009–12 (just as the number of titles begins to rise) (Davis, ‘Publishing in the End Times’ 5). The ABS figures cited earlier indicate that revenue from sales of locally published fiction fell substantially from 2002 to 2004, and it is possible that this trend continued for a number of years (unfortunately there are no later ABS figures for comparison); or perhaps it was enough in itself to prompt a reassessment of publishing priorities and strategies among the medium and large firms. The figures for individual publishers vary considerably year by year because of local circumstances—a high output year can be followed by a low output year and then another high—but in general the low output years fall between 2004 and 2008.

What we might be seeing in these years is a period of adjustment and transition, firstly in response to the threat or promise of ebooks and online bookselling, and secondly as part of a shift in conceptions of and investments in the fiction field itself. John Thompson describes the initial burst of optimism and anxiety regarding the ebook revolution around the turn of the millennium and the uncertainty that followed as the level of uptake remained low: ‘the ebook revolution had stalled’ (315). With the example of the music industry before it, a revolution in the book trade seemed imminent but its timing and dynamics remained obscure. The online bookselling ‘revolution’ was also building but had yet to break; Australians only had access to the Kindle store from late 2009. It was only towards the end of the decade that ebook sales rose dramatically; when they did, the surge was, against expectations, strongest in ‘commercial fiction’ and also strong in literary fiction (Thompson 323). Paradoxically—or not—it might be that despite the challenges it presented to traditional publishers the boom in ebook sales actually renewed confidence in the future of reading and of fiction, producing new investment in novels in print as well as in digital form. The uncertainty over parallel importation rules was also resolved in late 2009, when the federal government decided not to accept the Productivity Commission’s recommendations to remove the restrictions.

The other, more speculative adjustment is in the relations between literary and commercial fiction, in particular in the field of Australian fiction publishing. Nationalist paradigms meant that to a large extent Australian fiction was thought of in literary terms and as part of a cultural mission, however modestly. While commercial or genre fiction sustained many publishers’ lists, there was a relatively clear separation between the two sectors both within and between houses. Arguably these relations and hierarchies have been transformed, and while this has meant a degree of withdrawal from one form of fiction publishing it has also allowed new investment in other forms.

From one perspective the evidence supports Mark Davis’s argument, published right in the middle of this depressed period, that what we were seeing was the ‘decline of the literary paradigm’ in local publishing: ‘By the early 2000s … literary fiction was no longer the cornerstone of the industry’s self-perception’ (‘The Decline of the Literary Paradigm’ 120). His prediction that literary fiction would be published in two strands—under prestige imprints within large houses whose main business lies elsewhere, or through the niche in terests of smaller independents—was already a fair description of the Australian situation. But a more positive account might point instead to the emergence by the end of the decade of an ‘expanded middle’, of new investment not only in genre fiction but in the kind of works described earlier: the mid-range novels and ‘good commercial fiction’ that can produce modest and sometimes spectacular bestsellers. This is something different from the contemporary blurring of literary and genre boundaries that’s now almost a critical commonplace, but the two ‘expansions’ work together to produce a broader middle ground that crosses genre fiction, ‘good commercial fiction’ and ‘general fiction’.

How then does literary fiction fit into the general pattern of fiction publishing? As can be seen from the charts, the raw numbers vary with much the same degree of fluctuation as that for all fiction, from highs of 175 new titles in 2000 to a low of 122 in 2006, then rising to 179 in 2012. When reprints are included the lean years are the same: a low of 139 titles in 2006 compared to 226 in 2012. The number of new literary fiction titles remains low between 2005 and 2008 but rises steadily after that, following the course of general fiction publishing except for a minor dip in 2010. Despite these fluctuations the percentage of literary fiction to total fiction is remarkably consistent. With YA titles included the range is from 44% in 2000 to 36% in 2012, at an average of 39%. With YA titles excluded, the range is from 54% in 2000–01 to 45% in 2012, at an average of 49%. These figures might seem to indicate a declining role for literary fiction as in each case the 2012 percentage figures are the lowest, and those for 2013 are lower still at 33% and 30%, down from highs of 54% and 40% respectively in 2009. However, the number of literary fiction titles increased each year from 2010, suggesting that we’re witnessing a growth in genre fiction rather than a decline in literary publishing.

This is confirmed if we turn to the main sectors of genre fiction publishing (Figure 1.4): romance, speculative fiction (the AustLit categories of ‘science fiction’ and ‘fantasy’), crime (‘crime’, ‘detective’ and ‘mystery’), and thrillers (‘thriller’ and ‘adventure’). Each of these four categories shows a dramatic increase from 2010 to 2013: romance jumps from an average of 55 new titles annually in the decade to 2009 to a total of 66 in 2012 and 172 in 2013; speculative fiction from an average of 22 to 66 and then 134; crime from 37 to 75 and then 93; thrillers from 26 to 46 and then 82. The biggest increase from 2006 to 2012 is in speculative fiction (up by 62%); extending the calculations to 2013, the biggest increases are in speculative and romance fiction, both showing a rise of just over eighty per cent.

To some degree these increases will be the product of better data-harvesting methodologies that have been deployed for the AustLit database since early 2013. The 2013 figures do seem anomalous; hence my earlier decision to limit comparisons to the period to 2012. Compared to 2012, the figures for 2013 show a 43% rise in total fiction output and, within that, a 39% rise in literary titles. Such a dramatic rise is very unlikely to reflect a real, sudden increase in output. At the same time, the upward trajectory can be seen over a longer period, suggesting that the increases cannot be fully explained by better indexing.10 In other words, there has been real growth and from more than one driver.


Figure 1.4 Genre fiction, new titles 2000–139

In the romance field, for example, the local output from Harlequin has increased from around forty a year since 2000 to over one hundred in 2013, with the famous Mills & Boon imprint being joined by Harlequin MIRA in 2011—for genres including ‘literary fiction, historical fiction, paranormal fiction and thrillers’ (Harlequin Books)—and the digital imprint Escape Publishing in 2012, which is dedicated to Australian authors (a few of its 142 Australian titles have also made it into print). Although not included in my numbers, the digital-first Carina Press—for ‘contemporary romance, steampunk, erotic romance, gay/lesbian fiction, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or any number of other fiction genres’ (Carina Press)—also publishes Australian authors, and first appears in AustLit in 2010.11 Over the same period Penguin launched Destiny Romance, which was claimed as ‘the first Australian direct-to-digital romance imprint’, while Allen & Unwin launched Arena—for ‘epic fantasy, thrillers, crime, adventure and chick lit’—and House of Books for digital and print-on-demand releases (Penguin Books Australia; Allen & Unwin ‘About Allen & Unwin’; Allen & Unwin ‘House of Books’). Pan Macmillan launched Momentum as a ‘digital-only publisher’ (and some print-on-demand) for a very long list of genres, from action through to erotica, saga and urban fantasy (Momentum Books).12 HarperCollins continued to publish romance through Avon Romance Australia and speculative fiction through the Voyager imprint—and, best of all, in May 2014 it acquired Harlequin, surely making HarperCollins the largest publisher of Australian fiction in coming years (News Corp).13

The second factor is that suggested by the new imprints listed above: the rise in digital/print-on-demand and ebook titles. Even excluding the digital publishing imprints of the major publishers, ebook, print-on-demand and self-published titles taken together comprise something like 36% of all fiction titles and 40% of literary titles in 2013, up from 27% and 23% respectively in the previous year. This represents more than a forty per cent increase in the literary field.14 Two of the better-established outfits, Sid Harta and Zeus Publications, had large outputs in 2013—14 and 18 titles respectively—putting them in the second tier, just below the major publishers in terms of annual releases, while a wide range of smaller outfits produced clusters of titles.

While the expansion in genre publishing is clearly of major significance, much of this second expansion might have little bearing on the mainstream industry, or on literary culture insofar as many of the titles will remain invisible (to all but friends and family). But the majors are also expanding and not merely in romance or other sectors of the genre market. In 2013 Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Random House and Hachette Australia all had their highest output for the period from 2000. Some of the small- to medium-sized houses also had a strong year compared to their previous three or four: Text Publishing (11), Fremantle Press (10), Vivid Publishing (12), and Wakefield Press (5). Whatever other factors are in play, it is difficult not to conclude that fiction publishing—and reading and writing cultures—are in a period of growth, indeed of multiplication, as both a cause and an effect of multiplying avenues to publication. None of this necessarily translates into profits for publishers or incomes for writers, but it does suggest quite a rapid transformation in the dynamics of the industry and in its relations to its producers and consumers.

To draw these results together, the patterns that emerge across all four charts make it clear that there has been no steady increase in Australian fiction publishing, contrary to what we might expect given population increase and an expanding ‘books and writing’ culture in terms of literary festivals, prizes, reading groups and so forth within a generally expanding economy. At best we see a pattern of variations within a reasonably narrow range—at least until recently. This result might be contrasted with US book publishing statistics, which do show a steady increase in the first part of the period under examination (Bowker).15 In the category of ‘fiction’, numbers of titles published annually in the United States increased from 25,102 in 2002 to 53,590 in 2007, while in the category ‘literature’ numbers increased from 6261 in 2002 to 11,456 in 2009. In both categories there was a slight dip after these twin peaks—more of a holding pattern than continued growth—in part a result of increased ebook production, which is not counted in these statistics. Nonetheless when 2013 figures are compared to those from 2002 they show a 101% increase in fiction and a 73% increase in the literature category (Bowker).

At the same time, the Australian figures also indicate that there has not been a steady (let alone a dramatic) decline in local fiction publishing—despite falling industry revenue from book sales. If there was a period of transition or adjustment, perhaps even a moment of crisis, in the mid-late 2000s, the industry appears to have recovered by the end of the decade or at least to have reinvested in publishing new fiction. If anything, there has been a dramatic rise in output over the last few years. How far this recovery relies on a small number of large-scale global players—or, alternatively, on a large number of small-scale publishers, or on large numbers of print-on-demand and self-publishers—and just where the new investment is going will be analysed below.

Obviously the raw numbers of titles published annually will not give a full picture of the dynamics of the industry or the market for fiction/literary fiction. An increase in titles published might be symptomatic of an industry in crisis—publishing smaller numbers of more titles in the hope that that one or two will take off—rather than ruddy health. The figures give no information on print runs or sales, and despite some break-out bestsellers, such as Kylie Scott, most digital and print-on-demand publications will have minuscule numbers for both. What we can map more precisely is the distribution of production by publisher. As Thompson has argued, the trade book publishing industry is characterised by a very particular structure and dynamic: the polarisation of the field between ‘a small number of very large corporations which, between them, command a substantial share of the market, and a large number of very small publishing operations, ranging from small indie presses to a variety of trade associations and educational institutions, with a small and dwindling number of medium-sized players’ (147). His analysis shows why large corporations dominate, why small publishers continue to proliferate, and why being in between is so difficult.

The domination of the big players is not simply due to the advantages of scale in terms of overheads, distribution, advances and so on, but also because of their capacity, at best, to operate ‘small’ in domestic markets through local lists and targeted imprints, for example. Arguably we see this in the operation of houses such as Random House, Penguin and Pan Macmillan as Australian literary fiction publishers. As for the proliferation of small publishers, entry costs to the field remain low and are probably lower than they have ever been, while personal connections and a shared publishing ethos remain critical in local or niche markets. Medium-sized publishing houses were once the mainstays of mainstream fiction publishing—houses like Knopf, Random House, Chatto & Windus or Jonathan Cape that are now imprints within the mega-corporations. But in some ways the middle has become the most difficult place to be in trade publishing, with higher overheads than the smaller outfits but little access to the economies of scale or the bargaining power of the major houses (Thompson 175–76).

The structure of the Australian industry largely—and strikingly—conforms to this pattern, although it might be that Australia’s medium-sized domestic market means that medium-sized publishers have a larger role to play; or perhaps it is just that ‘medium’ in Australia can still mean pretty small. In terms of total fiction titles from 2000 to 2013, there is a very clear top six: in order, Harlequin, HarperCollins, Penguin, Allen & Unwin, Pan Macmillan and Random House (Figure 1.5). Each of these published more than three hundred titles and, from 2006, more than twenty each year. Random House, in sixth position, averages 24 titles per year across the whole period, and its total of 341 is more than double those that follow in the top ten: the pay-to-publish and print-on-demand firm Zeus Publications at 130 (not included in the chart below), Hachette Livre at 129 (since 2004), the University of Queensland Press (UQP) at 123 and Text at 116. With the exclusion of Zeus, Fremantle Press enters the top ten. Although all in this latter group except Hachette published novels right across the period, they average fewer than ten titles annually. Figure 1.5 includes YA novels but not children’s.


Figure 1.5 Top ten fiction publishers 2000–1316

The top three firms listed are responsible for more than a quarter (26.4%) of all fiction titles produced across the 14 years surveyed, while the top six published just over forty-five per cent of the total. These percentages have increased but then decreased into the present, despite the growth recorded above. Using the same ranking of firms, the top six published 37% of the total in 2000, 50% in 2007 and 38% in 2013. If we remove the YA titles from the lists the ordering changes slightly, but the top six—here responsible for 46% of the total—remain the same: in order, Harlequin, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Allen & Unwin and Random House (Pan Macmillan moves up to third; Penguin and Allen & Unwin drop one place).

What the chart shows clearly is the unequal distribution of the multinationals and the local independents. There is only one Australian-owned firm among the top five, but three among the second five, and below this top ten all except a handful of the next 50 publishers are locally owned. The exceptions are Hodder Headline (acquired by Hachette in 2004), Simon & Schuster, Scholastic and Jacaranda Wiley—the last two exclusively with YA titles.

In terms of genre fiction, unsurprisingly, the majors again dominate, though unevenly depending on the sector. In romance fiction their dominance is near absolute because of Harlequin’s pre-eminence in the field. On its own it published 64% of all romance titles published in Australia between 2010 and 2013, while together the top six from Figure 1.5 (Harlequin plus Allen & Unwin, HarperCollins, Penguin, Pan Macmillan and Random House) were responsible for 89%. Removing Harlequin titles from the total, the other top five published 68% of the remainder, and with the other major multinational, Hachette, added in the figure is 73%. The other big investor in romance is Penguin (37 titles in this four-year span). Pan Macmillan leads the thriller/adventure field with 28 titles. Although the spread is broader, the top six still dominate—publishing 43% of all titles, rising to 46% if we include Hachette. By contrast the involvement of a larger number of independents in crime fiction testifies to its standing among genre forms and its generic investment in local settings. Text, UQP, Scribe, Vivid, Fremantle and Pantera Press all contribute multiple titles in 2010–13, and Allen & Unwin matches Pan Macmillan as the top producer with 24 titles. Nonetheless, even in the absence of Harlequin, the top five plus Hachette account for 39% of total output, which is still more than a third. The field of speculative fiction is also relatively dispersed, with much higher numbers of small publishers and self-published or print-on-demand titles. HarperCollins is the dominant player for 2010–13, with 57 titles against Pan Macmillan’s 19 in second place. The top six were responsible for 35% of the total, and 39% with Hachette added.

Turning to literary fiction (Figure 1.6), we see some more significant shifts: Penguin and Random House rise, HarperCollins falls a few places, Harlequin disappears altogether, allowing another local, UQP, to join the top six; but the others in the top group are the familiar names.


Figure 1.6 Top ten literary fiction publishers, 2000–1317

In a sense what is noteworthy about these results is not that four of the top six are multinationals but rather that two of the top six—and six of the top ten—are Australian-owned. Hachette follows in 11th position, then the local firms Wakefield, Scribe, UWA Publishing and Brandl & Schlesinger. Nonetheless the chart again reveals the gap between the very large corporations and the medium-sized, with HarperCollins’s 130 titles more than doubling UQP’s 61. From that point on, the slope is gradual towards the small and very small operations. Only the top four average more than ten titles annually across the period, and of the rest only HarperCollins averages more than five. The pattern from year to year becomes increasingly patchy as we move down the scale—a patchiness represented visually in the table at Appendix 1.

In my earlier essay I remarked on the lack of continuity, beyond the top fifteen or so houses, in terms of the number of publishers that had either disappeared or stopped publishing literary fiction. Unsurprisingly there have been further casualties: Pandanus Books, Indra (which shifted from printed books, mainly fiction, to ebooks, mainly non-fiction), Duffy & Snellgrove (which stopped publishing new books in 2005), and Hale & Iremonger, in addition to those such as Hodder Headline and Lothian that were acquired by the majors—in this case both by Hachette—or Pier 9, an imprint of Murdoch Books that was acquired by Allen & Unwin in late 2012. But perhaps the sustainability of the small- to medium-sized local firms is slightly better than a decade ago, with publishers such as Australian Scholarly Publications, Scribe, Fremantle, Text, UQP, UWA Publishing, Brandl & Schlesinger, Transit Lounge, Ginninderra, Pantera, Giramondo and Interactive Publications continuing to produce small numbers of titles most years. If the years 2005–06 show more than their fair share of shutdowns and mergers, 2007–10 show perhaps more than their fair share of new start-ups: Vivid, Pantera, New Holland, Sleepers Publishing and Wombat Books (children’s and YA). Nonetheless the distorted shape of the publishing field is marked: the bottom twenty or so publishers have averaged less than two titles annually across the decade and a half, the bottom two-thirds less than three, and this without counting the very large numbers publishing only a handful of titles occasionally.

My 2007 essay finished on a cautious note, rejecting both boom and bust scenarios in favour of something more like ‘business as usual in unusual circumstances’. The dramatic growth in ebooks and online bookselling has occurred in the interim, making for even more unusual circumstances. But if the earlier essay ended with a question mark about the significance of declining outputs in the final years surveyed, this updated version can end perhaps on a more optimistic note (despite everything) with a question mark about the significance of what looks like an upward trajectory for Australian publishing of new Australian fiction across the spectrum.

Appendix 1: Publishers of Literary Fiction 2000–13 (Five or More Titles)



Works Cited

Allen & Unwin. ‘About Allen & Unwin’. Allen & Unwin. Allen & Unwin, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

———.‘House of Books’. Allen & Unwin. Allen & Unwin, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

AustLit. AustLit, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

Barthes, Roland. ‘Reflections on a Manual.’ The Rustle of Language. Trans. Richard Howard. Berkeley: U of California P, 1989.

Battellino, Ric. ‘Twenty Years of Economic Growth.’ Reserve Bank of Australia. Reserve Bank of Australia, 20 Aug. 2010. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

Bowker. Bowker, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

Carina Press. ‘About Us.’ Carina Press. Carina Press, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

Carter, David. ‘Boom, Bust or Business as Usual? Literary Fiction Publishing.’ Making Books: Contemporary Australian Publishing. Eds. David Carter and Anne Galligan. St Lucia: U of Queensland Press, 2007. 231–46.

Carter, David, and Anne Galligan. ‘Introduction.’ Making Books: Contemporary Australian Publishing. Eds. David Carter and Anne Galligan. St Lucia: U of Queensland P, 2007. 1–14.

Collins, Jim. Bring on the Books for Everybody: How Literary Culture Became Popular Culture. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010.

Davis, Mark. ‘Publishing in the End Times.’ By the Book? Contemporary Publishing in Australia. Ed. Emmett Stinson. Melbourne: Monash UP, 2013. 3–14.

———. ‘The Decline of the Literary Paradigm in Australian Publishing.’ Making Books: Contemporary Australian Publishing. Eds. David Carter and Anne Galligan. St Lucia: U of Queensland P, 2007. 116–31.

Publishers Weekly. ‘Frankfurt Book Fair 2013: Markus Dohle’s Full Remarks.’ Publishers Weekly. PWxyz, LLC., 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

Harlequin Books. ‘About Harlequin Books.’ Harlequin. Harlequin Enterprises Australia, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

Momentum Books. ‘About.’ Momentum. Pan Macmillan Australia, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

News Corp. ‘News Corp to Acquire Harlequin.’ News Corp. News Corp, 2 May 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

Penguin Books Australia. ‘Penguin Launches Destiny Romance—A New Digital Imprint.’ Penguin Books Australia. Penguin Random House, 17 Aug. 2012. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. < >.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia. Cover to Cover: A Market Analysis of the Australian Book Industry. Canberra: Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

Thompson, John B. Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century. 2nd ed. New York: Plume, 2012.


1The share of Australian publisher revenue accounted for by Australian books rose from 44% in 2001 to 48% in 2010 (PricewaterhouseCoopers 54).

2The ABS has not kept detailed statistics on the book industry since 2004.

3I’ve focused on novels, excluding a small number of novellas from the count.

4To include reprints the search is conducted according to ‘date of publication’ rather than ‘first known date’, in AustLit terminology. The latter figures have been adjusted to accurately record first known book publication in Australia.

5Dohle was speaking as the new CEO of Penguin Random House.

6While AustLit sometimes records an Australian place of publication for their books, titles from the two ebook publishers Amazon’s CreateSpace and Harlequin’s Carina Press have been excluded in this and subsequent charts because they are not Australian-based (XLibris, by contrast, does have an Australian footprint.) However, place of publication will become increasingly difficult as a term of exclusion/inclusion as ebook publication expands, and perhaps this is about the last point in time when such exclusions will be justifiable.

7The new numbers based on updated AustLit records slightly alter the picture presented in 2007 in that the total for 2004 (388) is now higher than that for 2003 (353).

8The 2002 total of 381 is just above the average of 379.4; 2004 at 403 slightly more so. The 2010 figure of 398 obviously just falls short of the 2000 and 2011 totals of 400.

9Note: Individual titles might be tagged with multiple genre terms.

10AustLit harvests new titles from the National Library of Australia’s National Bibliographic Database.

11Some items are given an Australian place of publication in AustLit—dubious but again any ‘place of publication’ would be.

12Pan Macmillan announced the Momentum imprint in August 2011 and released its first books in February 2012. Early in 2016 it was announced that Momentum’s publishing program would be ‘scaled down’ and publisher Joel Naoum would be leaving. Momentum’s Facebook site maintains (July 2016) that the imprint continues.

13More accurately, HarperCollins’s parent company, News Corp, acquired Harlequin to make it a division of HarperCollins. HarperCollins also began publishing romance through ABC Books, with which it ‘entered a commercial relationship’ in 2009.

14The counting is rough, as it is not always clear which books should be classified as self-published or which houses operate wholly or primarily on a pay-to-print or print-on-demand basis.

15The US figures do not include ‘non-traditional outputs’—reprint and print-on-demand titles—or e-books.

16Notes: Harlequin includes Escape Publishing, Harlequin MIRA and Mills &

Boon (Carina Press not included).

HarperCollins includes Avon, Flamingo, Fourth Estate, Harper Perennial and Voyager.

Penguin includes Hamish Hamilton, Michael Joseph, Puffin and Viking.

Allen & Unwin includes Arena and House of Books.

Pan Macmillan includes Macmillan, Momentum, Pan, Picador and Tor.

Random House includes Arrow, Bantam, Black Swan, Century, Doubleday, Heinemann, Knopf, Transworld and Vintage.

Hachette (from 2004) includes Hodder, Hodder Headline, Lothian (from 2006), Orion, Orbit, Sceptre and Sphere.

The print-on-demand and/or pay-to-publish firms Zeus (with 130 titles) and Sid Harta (with 91) and digital publisher CreateSpace (86) have been excluded.

17Again Zeus and Sid Harta have been excluded: Zeus is in ninth place with 53 titles; Sid Harta next with 50.

The Return of Print?: Contemporary Australian Publishing

   by Aaron Mannion and Emmett Stinson