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The Return of Print?: Contemporary Australian Publishing


Coming Out

Reframing the Public Face of Publishing



The author is dead; the book is dead; the publisher is dead; the reader lives in the ultimate democratic universe. While some analysts applaud the death of the traditional book and what they regard as its commercialised, elitist industry, others lament the implications of this revolution, fearing the death of long text narrative and the death of public discourse. In fact, in the current state of emergencies and disruptive technologies, fear tends to rule the discourse of traditional publishing and its associated industries.

One reason for this is that fear and calamity have assumed a commodity value in the media, since they sell newspapers, books, movies. There is an instant attention grab, exciting an emotional response whenever the word ‘death’ is used or when that deep voice whispers, ‘Be afraid, be very afraid.’ It might only last an instant, but the blip is on the screen. Therefore, in our media-saturated consumer society, these keywords are overused.

This paper argues that this fear dialogue has created a crisis of confidence in the publishing industry and its many participants. While some shrug off the negative labels, argue the logistics of the local industry or ignore developments, the Australian industry would benefit from a more empowering discourse. Research strongly indicates that, ‘[i]f you want to make the right decision for the future, fear is not a very good consultant’ (Auletta). More specifically, Rieger argues, ‘Fear destroys companies. Fear leads companies to destroy themselves’ from within (2). Publishing firms, individually and collectively, need to vault across the fault lines and create a positive framework to confront the future—which is, after all, still unwritten.

Death Discourse

When Roland Barthes announced the death of the author, it was an incendiary moment that set off a chain reaction. Foucault went further, asking, ‘what is an author’ and ‘what does it matter who is speaking?’ Derrida and others swung into the debate, further disrupting traditional notions of the text, its languages and its authors. Academics sharpened their wits and rebooted their vocabulary.

These debates made headlines and reputations, starting a million conversations. They also created a subgenre of literary criticism that has sold a great many academic books. Sean Burke is correct in more ways than one when he states in The Death and Return of the Author that ‘the concept of the author is never more alive than when pronounced dead’ (7). And I would like to elaborate on this return in response to recent work by John Logie and Jane Gallop, which highlight some relevant issues concerning Barthes’ infamous essay.

John Logie uncovers a Barthes persona largely unheralded. In recontextualising the essay within the art multimedia package where it was first published, he claims that ‘the circumstances of its composition make clear that it was never meant to be a traditional literary or scholarly essay’ (494). Barthes-as-participant and essay-as-chunk are subsumed into a broader artistic ‘happening’ that was presented in ‘The Minimalism Issue’ of Aspen: The Magazine in a Box. From 1965 to 1971, Aspen delivered each issue in boxes of various shapes and sizes.

The boxes housed an array of print artefacts (booklets, posters, cards, cardboard cut-outs), recordings, music scores, videos and games. There were contributions from John Cage, John Cale, Kate Millett, Susan Sontag, Yoko Ono, Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs. There was a ‘Pocket Diary of the Future’ by John Lennon and conference papers on LSD by Timothy Leary. The third issue of Aspen, on Pop Art, arrived in what appeared to be a Fab detergent carton designed by Andy Warhol. Marshall McLuhan presided over one issue, and video artist Nam June Paik pointed out several issues later that McLuhan’s ‘biggest inconsistency is that he still writes books’ (qtd. in Allen 48).

Aspen was not an academic, ivory-tower journal for what would become a seminal scholarly article. Since textual critics have forcefully argued that the artefact embodying the text is a fundamental part-determinant of its meaning (Shillingsburg; McGann), this early vaulting from the established format and container for academic deliverances is significant. Barthes’ essay was commissioned specifically for the minimalism issue dedicated to Stéphane Mallarmé. It was not an interjection into a diachronic academic conversation, but rather part of a synchronic, international cultural moment. As polemic, it was embedded into a ‘rhizomatic network’ of artistic provocations (Logie 500). The essay was released into a ‘pointedly multimedia conversation about the artistic process and the relationships among artists and their audiences’ (Logie 500). It is difficult not to agree with Logie’s argument that it remains a ‘deeply site-specific piece of writing’ (503). However, there is also a sophisticated reception process written into the life of Barthes’ article and its many interpretations that is highlighted by Jane Gallop in 2011 in The Deaths of the Author: Reading and Writing in Time.

Jane Gallop argues that while the author might have died under Barthes’ pen in 1967, he presided over the ‘friendly return’ of the author, just two years later (27). Barthes found that in the text he desired the author’s presence. The author who returns is not the institutional Author, but one who comes ‘out of his text and into our lives’ (Gallop 39)—which is indeed a friendly gesture. However, this friendly return occurred in the least known of Barthes’ works: Sade, Fourier, Loyola. Gallop makes the salient point: ‘The author dies in an overexposed Barthes, and returns in an underexposed Barthes; the imbalance in the reception of the texts tends to obscure the return and exaggerate the finality of the death’ (30). There is a disturbing imbalance here that supports the ongoing privileging of the death discourse. Clearly, the production and reception processes surrounding Barthes’ essay support Shillingsburg’s argument that ‘the contexts we identify as relevant to the text’ frame and determine our interpretation of that text (59).

The tragic fate of the author also serves as an accepted precursor to the death of the book. It is as if the institutional sentinels that inhibited the free flow of the text to the readers’ understanding were falling, and that this should be applauded. The book-as-container limited the contours of the text, its embellishment, its dimensionality. It also limited the reader’s capacity to answer back, since all things in this interconnected global communication environment must now be immediate.

Most accounts of the death of the book also assume the death of the publisher as an inevitable consequence. I was mistakenly thinking that the publishing industry died in 2011, since that seemed to be when all the bells were tolling, but found I was misguided when Google led me to an article announcing, ‘The publishing industry died last week’ on 12 June 2008 (Levin). It seems that the global economic meltdown was ‘the meteorite that hit the dinosaur right in the forehead’ (Levin), serving a fatal blow. But it seems some of us missed that!

So death still rules the discussion, as Derrida lamented, ‘as if one could add more deaths to death and thus indecently pluralize it’ (‘Deaths’ 275). But are any of these deaths real or have we indecently pluralised death to further erode the current publishing scene? Or is it true? Are we allowing the already dead ‘a sort of survivance, a kind of a living on, not only after their death, their actual death, but even before, as if they were already living on posthumously before their death’ (Brault and Naas 23)? These questions demand close examination as the ‘survivance’ of this discourse continues to impact the contemporary outworking and future framing of the publishing industry.

Impact of the D Discourse

One of the negative impacts of this constant airing of ‘death’ across the media sphere is that the industry lives in a constant state of crisis. There is a disturbing book of essays called Cultures of Insecurity: States, Communities, and the Production of Danger (Weldes et al.). When a nation, a culture, a community—or, I would suggest, an industry—lives in crisis mode, fear takes over as a primary driver of discourse. Extensive studies in change management and crisis management indicate that while a state of crisis generates a sense of urgency and reduces complacency—which enables positive action—long-term fear can cause paralysis and narrow vision, and can restrict decision-making processes. Fear is an enemy of creativity, and in a creative industry it is doubly damaging. Ongoing fear can be paralysing to a workplace; it demoralises personnel, causing staff to be self-protective, ‘driving them under their desks’ as Kotter consistently argues (qtd. in Nebenzahl 2008).

I will illustrate this with two brief examples. The first concerns the Australian Book Fair in 2000; usually a three-day event, the fair was forsaken on the last day as booksellers rushed back to their stores to preside over the dominant event of the year, the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This was certainly a bleak day for Australian publishing. There was a firm belief that no-one was going to buy any other books that month; few other conversations were worth the investment of time and energy. As Miller has remarked, ‘publishing is one of those businesses that is brilliant at thinking it’s perpetually at crisis point’ (qtd. in Clark).

Several years later, at an Australian Publishers Association closed-door seminar in 2007, the staging was solemn and dark. Richard Flanagan, as guest author and wearing the only white shirt, delivered a stirring address that lamented the media focus on greedy multinational publishers and pessimistic book nostalgia, ‘which bears little relation to our situation’ in Australia (Carter and Galligan 133). Flanagan endorsed the commitment and professional standards of Australian publishers and editors, then challenged the industry to develop a united institutional voice to address the significant threats to financial viability facing the local industry. Editors and middle managers responded from group discussions with enthusiasm and creativity. The momentum and motivation was lost, however, as the following key speakers presented an unrelenting account of the negative impact of government policies, book dumping, discount bins and the growth of non-traditional sales outlets. The audience settled into a familiar, disempowering conversation.

It would seem that the industry is stuck looking through an obituary frame with a jaded gaze. The resultant culture of insecurity can limit opportunities and innovative solutions, contaminating activity with negative dialogue, despite ongoing individual or group achievement and more optimistic analyses of the future of the industry. Of course, the level of insecurity all depends on the individual workplace, its level of understanding and its acceptance of this state of play. It depends on a firm’s driving agenda. It also depends on the culture of the local industry and the languages it uses to legitimise its existence.

This is where the publishing industry should excel: incorporating languages of creativity and innovation, professional expertise and specialist knowledge, nurturing in-house cultures, as well as its many stories of achievement and deserved acclaim. Admittedly, the website branding of a publishing company presents a strong public face, but for most outsiders, the focus is firmly on marketing the books and their authors. There is a great deal of truth in the statement that ‘publishers have been utterly crap at explaining what they do. And most of what they do is intrinsically invisible’ (Clark).

There is a ghosting of publishing professionals written into the literary sphere that is arguably disempowering in our highly visible, ‘everything out there’ contemporary culture. In this context the publishing industry operates at a disadvantage across a number of levels that deserve examination.

The Publisher’s Persona

Publisher as Backdrop

One of defining narratives of the role of the publisher is as an enabling agent. The publisher provides a platform but remains at a distance, a retiring backdrop for the creative spark in the literary sphere—the author. Hilary McPhee described this demeanour well: ‘Publishers’, she said, ‘are a little like literary footnotes, necessary but better tucked away at the back out of sight’ (19). While there are strong justifications for this retiring disposition that are steeped in tradition, there are negatives as well. There is a complex psychology behind this adopted positioning.

One explanation lies in the contradictory nature of all cultural industries—the interplay between culture and commerce. While the author is the genius, the publisher is the capitalist of the book world—the Shylock whose underlying intention is predatory. This might seem extreme, but the imagery is written into the historical narrative of the industry and still reappears. The publisher is also portrayed as the powerful multinational exploiter of the nation’s intellectual property, caring little for the local literary milieu. But this narrative is complex and debatable within the Australian industry (Galligan ‘Culture’ 45–46). Certainly it is not the game played by the small and medium publishers (SMPs), and it is these SMPs that constitute the ‘basic fabric’ of cultural industries everywhere, although the marketplace doesn’t necessarily reflect this (Garzón).

Culture of Secrecy

Another complex aspect of the publishing persona is a culture of secrecy that governs in-house activities, decision-making processes and the preparation of a text for publication. Again, this is understandable and historically endorsed. Selection processes are firmly rooted in the publisher-as-gatekeeper role, which is often contentious. Publishers and commissioning editors perform a major role and exert considerable power in the selection and legitimisation of a text and its author.

The complex layering of intangible values that operates across most in-house publishing processes means that these in-house processes are difficult transactions to define or measure. There is no standard formula for these evaluation and endorsement processes; there is no valid measure of consistency—unless it is the final sales figures. This obscurantist positioning about in-house decision making is arguably motivated by a keen instinct for self-protection.

Culture of Respect and Discretion

The ethos of the publishing persona also incorporates a culture of respect for the privacy of authors while working on their books. Books are contracted at different levels of completion and this finalising of the text can be a painful process. Dramas between authors and their publishers are rarely disclosed by the publisher unless they are coordinated into a wider marketing strategy. Although there is certainly covert sharing of tales of author tantrums or miscreant behaviour, it is generally regarded as ‘secret business’. Non-disclosure is written into the ethos of the publishing house.

The culture of discretion can extend to the contents of the text. Some books require a cloak of secrecy since they might be controversial, inflammatory or textually experimental. Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang—where the narrative style is experimental—was one example, while the sensitive political content of Goodbye Jerusalem, by Bob Ellis, was always going to be explosive.

Publishers and editors are the keepers of many secrets.

Culture of Invisibility: Editor as Invisible Presence

Another driving narrative that builds this retiring disposition into the public persona of the publisher concerns the role of the editor as the ‘invisible mender’ of the text (Davis qtd. in Barker 21)—a text already judged to have merit. Jacqueline Kent refers to editors as ‘self-effacing backroom people’, while Rosie Fitzgibbons referred to this type of domestic imagery in describing her editorial practice as ‘understanding the author’s voice and working within that’ (interview with Anne Richards 1996). This collusion between the author and editor is an essential element of good publishing practice and is integrated into the ongoing branding of the publishing house. These invisible processes of accrual of value are deeply, justifiably embedded in the publishing ethos.

But editors can be ghosted both within the showcase identity of the publishing house and during the production process (Galligan ‘Cultural Determinants’; Poland), and this invisibility is another subscript historically accepted across the industry. Certainly, the prominence of literary events and writers festivals has provided a platform for publishers and editors to present themselves as articulate spokespersons explaining their industry and expertise. While this has contributed to a more visible presence, the culture of editor invisibility still dominates.

Looking at this list, it is not surprising that publishing professionals can feel undervalued, disempowered and frustrated. In a society that has never had a strong appreciation of the value of the arts—unlike most European countries—this invisibility within an always-contested local industry is doubly challenging.

Different National Publishing Cultures

It is important to acknowledge the very different positioning of the Australian industry compared with most English-speaking countries and the major European publishing industries. In working on a collaborative project with German academics on the contemporary industry in Germany and Australia, it was difficult for my colleagues to understand the contested positioning of the industry in Australia. This is, of course, a result of the very different book histories of the two countries, which have produced very different publishing cultures.

The printing press was a German invention; the first printed Bibles were displayed at the Frankfurt Fair in 1455 and books and printing expertise spread across Europe from there. A vibrant trade in illuminated manuscripts had been conducted at the Frankfurt Fair since the twelfth century. The German industry has no need to justify its existence to either the government or the general population—readers or non-readers. The book industry is traditionally entrenched, and has been culturally validated and financially sustainable for over 500 years.

This is not the case in Australia, where the industry still struggles to justify its importance to government, cultural and institutional bodies. This is a time-consuming, frustrating process. Any ground won in one decade or under one government is too often lost with the next financial meltdown. The local industry has never been able to coordinate and finance a sustained strategy to address the major supply-chain issues that continue to undermine the profitability of the industry.

An additional struggle stems from Australian colonial history and the long journey to legitimise Australian content, Australian authors and locally produced books. Henry Lawson bemoaned the popularity of ‘thievish imported rags’ as the major cause of the failure of Australian literature in 1894. A deep sense of discouragement in the state of Australian publishing is obvious in George Robertson’s expression of retreat in the 1920s:

[A]fter nearly thirty years’ hard work (endeavouring to do what I could for Australian literature) … for the future A&R intend devoting all their time and energy to the much more profitable, and infinitely less arduous, task of selling British and American books. (qtd. in James 8)

By 1953 there were still only three Australian publishers, Angus & Robertson, Melbourne University Press and Cheshire, who produced more than ten titles a year (Curtain 143). At this time a quarter of all British book exports (24%) were bound for Australia. This was only 60 years ago.

It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that the Australian publishing industry gathered momentum as a new wave of publishers and publishing houses passionately committed to developing innovative lists built on the high quality writing of emerging Australian authors. This slowly revolutionised the reading habits of Australians to buy Australian books. (Galligan ‘Cultural Determinants’; Galligan ‘Textual Condition’). By the late 1990s, as much as 60% of all books bought here were Australian titles. Now the Internet is changing not only the book container, but reading habits and consumer patterns. My final comment to my German colleagues was that while this looks like a sad story, it is merely the reality of the Australian industry and how it is positioned here.

Our industry is actually an amazing success story, which deserves to be celebrated, something we don’t do particularly well. The transformation of the Australian book market over the last 50 years by a delightful mix of deeply committed, inspired publishers and editors is a remarkable achievement. Nevertheless, current publishing analysts continue to project hard times for the Australian industry. In this difficult climate, I personally recommend Alice Walker’s encouragement that ‘Hard Times Require Furious Dancing’. In addition, however, there are focused business strategies to consider.

Current State of Play

Certainly, the fracturing of traditional associations of content with the book container is a radical disruption. In addition, the abundance of content online increases the pressure on the industry to create new and more effective methods of marketing content-rich products. There are indeed many points of crisis, but it is not the apocalypse. It is wise to remember Shillingsburg’s argument (writing about the circulation of books in nineteenth-century England) that authorship, printing and publishing exist in a ‘complex of economic traditions and interests in a continuous struggle with innovation—both technical and moral—and with attitudes … particularly as they [reflect their] audiences’ (29). So innovation and attitudes have always been key determinants of industry developments.

The ground is unstable and this is unlikely to change. Every tertiary management and business course is currently teaching that change is the only constant for the future. In an innovation eager environment, adaptability is becoming a primary driver, giving what is now termed ‘an evolutionary advantage’ (Hammel and Breen 3). Intensive research is being conducted on entrepreneurial motivation, which indicates that fear is a dangerous consultant and can actually fuel a self-destruction process in an organisation. Fear does two things: it reduces the tendency to exploit a presenting opportunity, and it reduces the tendency to evaluate an opportunity positively (Welpe et al 89). These principles are clearly demonstrated in the following tables showing the direct effects of fear and joy on both the evaluation process of a presenting opportunity and the probability of a positive exploitation assessment.


Figure 9.1
(Welpe, Spörrle, Grichnik, Michl & Audretsch 2012, 81; Printed by permission John Wiley & Sons)

This research on motivation in entrepreneurs is carefully mapping attitudes, emotions, behaviours and decision making processes and outcomes. Applying this to the publishing industry would indicate that during the important evaluation process, a high level of fear before a manuscript is read or a publishing meeting attended is likely to produce a negative response, a negative exploitation value. Similarly, a high level of joy will produce a more positive outcome, a positive exploitation value. Welpe et al also argue that anger can function as a primary driver which also generates a positive exploitation outcome. While this might seem like common sense, these invisible processes are actually very complex.

Essential factors in decision making processes are being systematically charted, with results demonstrating significant statistical correlations, as the following table also indicates.


Figure 9.2
(Welpe, Spörrle, Grichnik, Michl & Audretsch 2012, 84; Printed by permission John Wiley & Sons)

A simple application of this research to the publishing industry is that a risky venture will be far less likely to proceed when there is a strong negative fear factor functioning within an organisation. This research indicates the centrality of emotional drivers at work within decision-making processes. It demonstrates quite clearly that decisions are not made in pure waters or, in French ‘theory-speak’, ‘are not defined by a pure confrontation with pure possibles’ (Bourdieu 206). SMPs are indeed facing economic stringencies, which limits the space of possibilities for positive action. This means that everyone is being challenged to think outside the box. But the box is not the book, the box is our limited mindset, which inhibits evaluation and decision making processes.

Adaptability and Attitudes

I would suggest that two pivotal points for ongoing success are adaptability and attitudes. In order to maximise successful outcomes from adaptability strategies, a company, an industry, must be secure in its mission and its foundational strengths. My previous research (Galligan ‘Cultural Determinants’; Galligan ‘Textual Condition’) demonstrates that SMPs in Australia have a strong sense of mission, which is clearly and forcefully articulated. So I will turn to core strengths.

It is here that the Kierkegaardian notion of upbuilding can reaffirm and strengthen both the ethos and the capability of an organisation—its foundational strengths. Nielsen and Dufresne explain: ‘Instead of the crisis being defined as how to change an organization so that it can more prosperously adjust to an external environment, the problem is, in a sense, reversed’ (323). The problems can be reframed in order to ‘simultaneously maintain, stimulate, and enable the organization’s ethical tradition while dealing with a problematical environment’ (323). In this way, a company can both respond more creatively to crises and strengthen its own ethical traditions. An ‘upbuilding’ perspective, and it doesn’t matter what term you use, just grab the concept, reframes a crisis dialogue.

The paradigmatic shift clearly identified in the Book Industry Strategy Group (BISG) report creates an opportunity to reframe the positive languages and enabling logics of a highly functional, though invisible, cultural ethos within a publishing company. It is important to recognise, however, that the choice of what is enabling and what is dysfunctional is up to the individual publishing house and can change over time. Language is always political and is actioned in everyday practice. Attitudes and inherent behaviours can work creatively to expedite organisational operations.

Within a company, individual staff do take account of structural and emotional circumstances, and there is often a self-conscious positioning within an intellectual and creative space. This has both positive and negative outworkings, affecting perceptions, decision-making processes and the range of options that are posed for action. The fact is that the level of personal commitment is always variable and, as Blainey realistically observed, ‘principles are often bruised by daily pressures and occupational hazards’ (9). The grit of the grind takes its toll.

The centrality of an in-house culture in influencing the attitudes and behaviours of staff as innovative and active participants, both with their own responsibilities and within a broader cultural context, should not be underestimated. Each publishing house is a space for creative action. While there are many different positions based on the mission of the individual house, there is an overall theory of practice predicated on a belief in the cultural and political value of literary practice (Carter and Galligan 1–14). There is a strong commitment to an aesthetics of value and to a broader social good that drives in-house decisions, modes of operation and final outcomes.


One simple word to describe the complex motivations behind the publishing industry, whether or not these become jaded over time, is the old-fashioned but newly located word: passion. Interestingly, passion as a driver of entrepreneurial success in both for-profit and not-for-profit organisations is now an area of intense research, drawing together academic studies in management, psychology, marketing and economics.

Cardon et al developed the following model of entrepreneurial passion, carefully mapping the complex interrelationships between goal-related cognitions, entrepreneurial behaviours and entrepreneurial effectiveness, with each contributing element awarded a statistical value:


Figure 9.3
(Cardon, Wincent, Singh & Drnovsek 2009, 519; Printed by permission Academy of Management Review)

The results indicate that passion in entrepreneurs creates pride, enthusiasm, energy and the drive to complete challenging tasks to a high standard (Cardon et al 512). Passion generates ‘drive, tenacity, a willingness to work long hours, courage, high levels of initiative, and persistence in the face of obstacles’ (Bierly et al in Cardon et al 512). For the poetic among us, the authors also confirm that passion ‘promotes intense, flowlike states of total absorption in one’s activities’ (Csikszentmihalyi in Cardon et al 515). Passion involves feelings that are hot, overpowering, and suffused with the fire of desire (Cardon et al 515). These comments are all made in this extensive, quite dry research paper replete with multiple statistical tables, charts, graphs and complicated Venn diagrams. Passion is not an outmoded word; it is being newly legitimised and reframed.

My argument is that the publishing industry in Australia would not exist at all without this essential ingredient. It is possibly the biggest resource that SMPs have available. Activities in the literary field and its enabling publishing houses were traditionally justified by altruistic agendas (alongside commercial motivations of course). This dialogue of passionate commitment was an accepted and respected justification underlying decision making processes—as the many interviews with publishers in the National Library Oral History archives demonstrate. These motivations have been devalued by dominant economic criteria and discouraged by the death discourse and its rhetoric of fear.

Nevertheless, passion, commitment, a joy of working in a creative environment, a love of the text and of books, a sense of obligation to recognise and promote good writing, and the desire to make some worthwhile contribution are all completely valid motivational drivers, as the business sector is discovering. This is the creative ‘fire of desire’ within a cultural industry and also, I suggest, within humanities faculties in the university, which are also struggling to reframe their position within the business oriented tertiary sector.

The argument here is that the publishing industry needs an injection of passion into its artisan culture and creative languages. Publishers and editors on steroids are required: pumped up, bronzed, oiled, text savvy and brazen. And publishers, in coming out as fearless entrepreneurs, might not have the same retiring, diffident identity. They do not have to dress in black. They can have more fun. They can celebrate not only their authors and their books, but each other. I would also suggest that it might require more than one steroidal intervention to cope with the deluge of authors, diversity of container options, writing styles and multimodal formats of a supersaturated, clouded marketplace.

Author Explosion

The author-personage has multiplied exponentially. The dramatic increase in the number of people with high levels of social, intellectual and cultural capital means that there is a justifiable increase in the number of writers capable of creating long-form narratives (Nash 117). Traditionally, the author wrote with the expectation of finding readers. Now readers want to be authors too.

This expansionist shift in the pool of writers will grow with the next generation. This is a generation that will not sit through the qualifying rounds, seeking some element of legitimisation before tagging themselves as book authors. They have been endorsed throughout their short careers. A strong element of narcissism is written into this next individualistic culture, which is now being charted (De). There are both positive and negative features, but it is obvious that self-publishing is becoming an extension of social media for the ‘Can’t Wait’ generation.

However, self-published authors are finding that what they also crave is readers; it is not enough to release their book into the public sphere; the next step of recognition is desired. This is part of a normal reception process—the recognition that something of value has been contributed. The desire for recognition or endorsement of value might be supplied by strong sales or reviews from critics or experts in a particular field, or by different forms of ‘social confirmation’ such as Facebook likes, website feedback or tweets, for those more at home with a tweet than a metaphor.

Self-publishing is actually a hard road to travel long term unless the author already has a substantial network, established platform or broader commitment to a cause or genre. A recent author survey conducted by FutureBook in late 2012 examined satisfaction levels of 240 traditionally published and 125 self-published authors. The results are significant. Self-published authors are slightly more satisfied with the overall experience, appreciating their control over the publishing process. However, only 12.5% of respondents were not interested in securing a trade book-publishing deal.

For selfies, the obvious hooks of validation and professional expertise found in a traditional publisher were confirmed. The other key advantage was the availability of better marketing and publicity. Unfortunately, the same survey also demonstrated that marketing, or the lack of it, was the most significant cause of dissatisfaction for authors with traditional publishers. So marketing remains ‘the dark matter’ of publishing on both sides of the fence (Lichtenberg 108). The final surprise was the clear perception from the selfies of greater financial security with mainstream publishers. This result dismayed even the survey conductors since greater financial reward in going it alone is advocated as the self-publishing drawcard: ‘Don’t share your profits with a publisher.’ But a large percentage of these newbies are hoping to find a traditional publisher.

An additional explosion on the horizon is the newly educated millions from Africa and Asia who are beginning to write long-form narratives with or without multimedia add-ons. These stories are going to be extraordinary, whether they are well written or not—and many of them will be beautifully written. This should be hugely exciting for publishers. The Big Five recognise this and are now buying up smaller publishing houses throughout India and Asia. There are obvious opportunities opening in these areas.

I have a few suggestions that might not be immediately practicable, but are worth some consideration. A publishing house could adopt a publishing orphan in a third world country; do a joint print run in English and Nigerian/Vietnamese/Spanish; help fund a scholarship; set up an internship for a foreign student; or send out some scouts (e.g. a small subsidy for an intern on vacation). Certainly everyone here is challenged by a lack of funds and a lack of time, but there is no lack of expertise in Australia and I urge you to be generous and share it.


The real challenge for publishers remains to develop models and pathways for authors to present their best work in an easily accessible container, and to find readers who will both read and recommend their book. This is their traditional role. The expertise of the editor in spotting and shaping a good story will remain critical to the industry, as will providing authors with professional critique to assist in developing their literary skills.

The diversity of Australian stories has been recognised and endorsed over the last 60 years and this has been a great achievement. But it remains absolutely vital that the next wave of stories and information is released on a wide range of publishing platforms. In a time when fear seems to rule most political discourse in a sea of muddied and ignorant slogans, there has never been a more urgent need for courageous publishing initiatives. A nation has never built a prosperous, equitable future on a dialogue of fear. There are at least 23 million reasons why Australia needs a strong publishing industry.

The local industry certainly faces huge challenges. As I have argued, our mindset and language does influence our perceptions and our choices. The future should be a new adventure, not a reason to hit the disconnect button. The author did not die, but returned different and more friendly, just two years later. The book is not dead, just morphing and playing around. It is a trifle uncontained and is causing anxiety, but perhaps it is merely adolescent. Publishing isn’t dead, but it has some major identity issues. There is a need for regrouping and reframing the industry discourse.

Publishers should aspire to live in the future tense. As Spivak explains, ‘we cannot keep up with the vanishing present’ (qtd. in Gallop 14) and that is no reason to be afraid. It might also be useful to know that statistically, as publishers and arts academics working in a creative environment, according to recent management research, you have a high positive, and therefore relevant, correlation coefficient. And that is cause for celebration!

Works Cited

Allen, Gwen. Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.

Auletta, Ken. ‘Publish or Perish: Can the iPad Topple the Kindle, and Save the Book Business?’ The New Yorker. Condé Nast, 26 Apr. 2010. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

Barker, Anthony. One of the First and One of the Finest: Beatrice Davis, Book Editor. Carlton, Vic.: Society of Editors (Victoria), 1991.

Barthes, Roland. ‘The Death of the Author.’ Image—Music—Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill & Wang, 1977. 142–48.

Blainey, Geoffrey. ‘Government Patronage and Literature.’ Overland 57 (1974): 37–43.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. Trans. Susan Emanuel. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1996.

Brault, Pascale-Anne, and Michael Naas. ‘Introduction.’ The Work of Mourning. By Jacques Derrida. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2001.

Burke, Seán. The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1998.

Carter, David and Anne Galligan. eds. Making Books: Contemporary Australian Publishing. St Lucia, Qld: U of Queensland P, 2007.

———. ‘Introduction.’ Making Books: Contemporary Australian Publishing. St Lucia, Qld: U of Queensland P, 2007: 1–14.

Clark, Alex. ‘The Lost Art of Editing.’ The Guardian, Guardian News and Media Limited, 12 Feb. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

Curtain, John. 1998. ‘How Australian Publishing Won its Way Against the Odds.’ Logos 9.3 (1998): 141–46.

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The Return of Print?: Contemporary Australian Publishing

   by Aaron Mannion and Emmett Stinson