Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Books Abroad: Australian Publishing and Book Business in Melbourne

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We inaugurate “Books Abroad”, our international version of “Not New York”, with a post from Kate McKenzie on her hometown, Melbourne, Australia. Just as we want to widen horizons and make connections beyond “NYCentric” book business in the US, we also want to explore other publishing hubs around the world. Shannon will continue her explorations, and we’ll also welcome profiles from other guest contributors. Like any travelers, we’re on the hunt for communities small and large, landmarks and little-known treasures. All aboard for Books Abroad!

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I’ve lived in Melbourne my whole life, and I never knew how lucky I was until this year while I was working at the Emerging Writers Festival. I got to meet people from all over the country who are working in the publishing industry, and got a better sense than ever before that our publishing scene is world-class. Melbourne prides itself on being a UNESCO City of Literature, and it takes the mantle very seriously.  Its publishing scene is diverse, and includes large publishing houses, but you can also find a thriving small press network and an enthusiastic independent publishing scene.

In Melbourne, we are lucky enough to have a thriving literary and publishing hub, the Wheeler Center for Books Writing and Ideas. The Wheeler Center is connected to the magnificent State Library, and it is home to many writing organisations. In 2010, the Wheeler Center was opened after they received a donation from local Melbournians and founders of Lonely Planet, Tony and Maureen Wheeler. The centre regularly hosts literary events, panels and book launches, many of which are free.

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To keep Melbourne readers and writers busy, there are two writers’ festivals – the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and the Emerging Writers’ Festival. They are both very well respected and enjoy national and international patronage. Volunteering, interning, performing and even just attending these festivals is highly regarded in the industry.

The Melbourne publishing scene is becoming aware of the burgeoning Asian market for English-language material and many organisations are working to create links with Asia-Pacific countries. For example, the Emerging Writers’ Festival launched an exchange program with Bali this year and Penguin now has a North Asian Office in Beijing.

However, the bookselling industry in Australia was hit hard in 2011 with the bankruptcy and collapse of the REDGroup. This company owned the largest chain of bookstores in the country including Borders and Angus & Robertson.  When they disappeared, they left a large hole in the bookselling industry. Australians were left with the option to buy their books from department stores, independent bookstores, or online.

From the ashes of this disaster was born an opportunity for speciality bookstores. Some of the most exciting bookstores in Melbourne include: Metropolis, Embiggen Books, Kay Craddock Antiquarian Booksellers and PolyEster Books. Here, you can find anything from beautiful art books to bizarre underground books to second-hand philosophy books to first editions of Lewis Carroll. Melbourne is also home to a dedicated zine store called The Sticky Institute and there are numerous bookswap programs including the Little Library.

The major publishers in Melbourne are considered to be Random House, MacmillanPenguin, HarperCollins. For academic publishing, you have Melbourne University Publishing, Monash University Publishing and RMIT Publishing, and another, independent press, Text Publishing, have recently made a foray into North America.

Smaller presses also abound in Melbourne and many are members of the Small Press Network. SPN aims to “promote independent publishing and support the principle of diversity within the publishing industry as a vital component of Australian literary culture.” The Australian media industry is a “virtual duopoly,” so promoting independence and diversity in publishing is an important part of fostering a healthy democracy. The members of SPN make up a large network, and include Affirm Press and Vignette Press.

Meanjin is one of Melbourne’s oldest and most esteemed literary journals. Each issue is full of the best and brightest Australian writers. Other  journals like Kill Your Darlings and The Lifted Brow were founded more recently, and feature cutting-edge writers from Australia and the world. These publications all provide excellent exposure for established and emerging writers and can act as launching pads for writing careers. They reach a large number of readers across Australia and many publishing houses subscribe to these journals.

Publishing houses also subscribe to the industry magazine, Bookseller+Publisher. It is essential to keep up with the news from this source whether you are just entering the industry, or you have been around for 20 years.

For budding publishers in Melbourne, the usual path is through an arts undergraduate and then to move into a postgraduate degree, and interning at one of the writers’ festivals, journals, or publishing houses is highly regarded. Some people strike out on their own to find an internship; otherwise there is a lot of support from the universities in helping you to find a placement.

In my experience, the publishing industry in Melbourne is very competitive. The best way to get ahead is to get extra training and volunteer your time. Getting involved in the undergraduate and postgraduate communities will present opportunities to get in the industry. I felt the most connected when interning and submitting work to places which I respect and admire.

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Are you a member of the Australian book business? Tell us about your experience and what great parts of the Melbourne scene we might have missed!

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