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Supporting Australian authors is an interesting topic of discussion. While there are a range of opinions on just where authors in Australia are at, the data does not lie. The 2022 National Survey of Australian Book Authors (November 2022 – Australia Council for the Arts, Copyright Agency and Macquarie University) shows why many authors are abandoning the traditional publishing model and why self-publishing is on the up.

1. A brief summary of the National Survey of Australian Book authors

The Introduction to 2022 National Survey of Australian Book Authors identifies the Australian book industry as one of the:

most important among our cultural industries both in the contribution it makes to the economy and its role as an essential element in Australia’s cultural life.

The report’s Conclusion  states:

the benefits Australian book authors provide are not reflected in the marketplace, and as an instance of market failure they justify the support of government policy to ensure they will continue to be generated.

The conclusion might be simply put: “the taxpayer should pay for books to be published and support Australian authors”. The survey’s assertion of  ‘market failure’ is presumably based on data describing the very low earnings of authors. This data reveals the average author earns just $4,100, the average poet just $600 in royalty payments per annum. This conclusion can be challenged on several grounds but which I won’t be going into any depth on that right now, rather segue to my humble thoughts below.

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2. An industry professional’s opinion on supporting Australian authors

To me, the survey affirms that the traditional publishing industry model is well and truly broken. And that doesn’t mean that ‘government policy’, presumably fiscal policy is the answer. Are people old enough to remember the painful dismantling of the Federal Government’s tariff and subsidy regime for the Australian automotive industry in the 1980s and 1990s and the sector’s eventual total collapse in the 2000s and 2010s?

Books and cars are a long way apart, but the principle is the same. Government policy and financial payments seldom reach the people most in need (the authors) and seldom effect needed change. Rather money goes to propping up industry players – the traditional publishing companies many of whom are doing quite well financially – rather than supporting Australian authors directly. And government support is often a bandage, doing little to fix the underlying structural issues.

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3. Self-publishing on the rise

While the publishing industry in Australia has long been in gradual decline (or at best flat-lining), self-publishing has now established itself as a viable option for many authors. True self-publishing is self-funded publishing.

Is self-publishing the solution? Quite possibly. But one thing I know is that right now, structural change is ongoing and gathering pace! Bricks-and-mortar bookshops are disappearing, some online booksellers are feeling the pinch and AI is threatening the viability content creators. The good news is there is a new publishing model rising – its the continued democratisation of publishing. And that’s a good thing.

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David Walters | Director, Green Hill

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