News.com noted that the Australian Booksellers Association held a an Australian Bookshop day in May, an association which represents many independent booksellers. They celebrated Australian literature, culture and society.
It seems that the many independent booksellers were in shopping strips (away from the main plaza), paying less rent that the major outlets and there appears to be evidence that smaller outlets could offer better service. (www.news.com.au)
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted British author Jeanette Winterson who was on a book tour who said: 'The little shops are coming back. It looks like they were not threatened by the e-trade in the way that we all imaged.'
Winterson stated: ''I just did a 10-city tour of the (United) States and the big shops have been closing, just as they have in Australia, and yet over and over, small booksellers kept saying to me, 'we're doing better'.” (www.smh.com.au)
What of Australian authors? How about 1935!
Well-Being Australia chairman Mark Tronson said that he was rifling through the family archive recently and came across an article his mother had kept. Dated 5 May 1935 ‘Sunday Sun and Guardian’, headline: “Our Competitions: Australian Authors - Do we neglect them?”
This page seems to have interested my mother, as she herself was an inspiring author.
The article was within a column compiled by Howard Ashton, entitled “The Book Review and Music Notes section”, and he presented a number of reasons why the Australian public, at that time, had been neglecting its own authors.
Mark Tronson says that this was 77 years ago and the theme has a woeful regular ring to it.
Mr F Gordon Crane of Emu Park, Central Queensland commented about a push to publish Australian work as ‘fair dinkum’ and complained that they were being marketed just 'because' they were ‘Australian’ authors. In his view, 77 years ago, there was an exaggerated tendency to market under the slogan ‘buy Australian because you are Australian’. This he thought exploited the local market and that overseas quality writers were therefore not as readily available.
Fast Forward to 1982
Mark Tronson fast-forwards to 1982 and to his first book “Hockey in Australia” where these same kinds of arguments were being put. Over the years Governments of either persuasion have fiddled with the laws to advantage Australian authors.
Certainly the Library and Education Public Lending Schemes, paying Australian authors loyalties in Libraries and educational institutions, has been a great step forward for fostering Australian authors – but the question of whether the quality is as high as it might be with more competition remains open.
Mark Tronson noted that this illustrates that in each generation there is a debate about Australian authors and the nature of 'overseas' competition. Today, one can get on the internet and order a book from anywhere in the world.
Always a debate about legitimacy
Another 'debate' is in the nature of evangelism where books have had a huge impact and given quite false impressions. Mark Tronson says he grew up in the 50's and '60s hearing stories of a 'golden era' of Sydney Baptist church growth in the 1930s and its remarkable evangelism. Books were written about it.
However Australian Baptist research writers in the 1980's demonstrated that this 'golden era' was limited to two or three congregations. They had significant preachers and these churches knew how to market their strengths.
Indeed the Pentecostals of today may have taken an idea or two from them. Moreover there are plenty of Pentecostal Australian authors on Christian “life style” issues and even a celebrated book by a celebrated preacher, saying Christians should be wealthy.
The Christian book market is huge and faces similar issues to the secular market. Australian authors of Christian books find the going much tougher due to the 'economies of scale'. The US Christian book market is much healthier as are their authors due to the huge demand by American evangelicals.
There have been, nonetheless, important book published by Australian Christian publishers which have an Australian specific audience. Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson: “God's of Sport” - presents the testimonials of Australian sportsmen and women along with “No Orchestra, No Trumpet” by Mark Tronson on the story of the Australian sports ministry.
Reverend Dr Gordon Moyes AC has written numerous books for the Australian Christian market to name just one such celebrity author. The real test is to personally visit the Lutheran's Openbook or Kooyong and ask to see Australian authors. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html