Australian writers are being assailed on all fronts at the moment. The government is keen to change the rules about whether bookshops can buy their books from an overseas publisher, rather than having to go to an Australian publisher. This has the Australian Society of Authors and many others super-riled.
Proposed changes to copyright are also freaking out a lot of writers and publishers. And of course there’s the cutback in government money for writers and publishers, with some people saying this is by far the biggest deal for those who create non-mainstream books.
I’m not an expert in the economy of book publishing – I barely understand the economics of my own book-creating situation – but it seems reasonable to think none of this will make it any easier to get a book written, published and sold in Australia. But it also all seems a bit beside the point, because the thing is even if the government was crying out to fully subsidise all our writing and publishing efforts and we could churn out OzLit by the bucketload, no one wants to buy it or read it.
Have you seen Roy Morgan’s latest polling on rates of reading among kids and adults in Australia? Apparently the kid stuff is good news, but I don’t care – I don’t write kids’ books and by the time they’re old enough to read my books I’ll probably be dead. But take a look at those adults figures. In the last three months, nearly 40% of Australian sheilas over 14 years old did not read a novel. They didn’t even have a go. And fewer of them had picked up a book than last time Roy asked ‘hey, what are you reading?’.
Blokes? Nearly 60% of them did not read a novel in the last three months.
It’d be interesting to know what the figures were for the last year – I don’t imagine they’d be much more encouraging. If you don’t think ‘I wouldn’t mind reading a novel’ even once in three months, why would you think it ever?
It would also be really interesting, of course, to know what kinds of novels people are reading, and how often those in the ‘reading’ group pick up a new book. Given only 16% of Australian adults had bought a book in the last month, the figures among reading folk probably aren’t that high. And I’m guessing a lot of the novels that do get read are written by a small group of bestselling authors, most of whom are overseas, and that another fair chunk is books that have been out forever that people have finally got around to reading (maybe because someone just made the book into a movie).
As a loose guide, Booktopia’s ten best-selling adult fiction books for last year were (biggest-selling first) Go set a watchman, The girl on the train, Grey, The girl in the spider’s web, The lake house (Australian), Make me, A little life, Island home (Aust), The secret chord (Aust) and either Isobelle Carmody’s Australian The red queen or Michael Connelly’s The crossing, depending on whether you reckon Carmody’s work is for adults.
From which I conclude that the vast majority of Australians could not care less whether I ever finish my work of historical-science-fiction set on a shipwreck because they do not intend ever to read it. What’s more, if they don’t I shouldn’t feel miffed, because they were quite clear up-front that novels just aren’t really a thing they’re into, thanks very much.
So why does anyone bother writing? Pretty much no one wants to read books. There is no demand for books. No one is standing outside the bookshop door going ‘I’ve read all these! When is a new one coming out???’
There certainly isn’t any demand for Australian literary fiction. The Australian government doesn’t care if Australians keep writing and publishing books. And specifically, no one cares if my book ever gets finished or published.
I guess you do it, as David Lynch apocryphally said, for the doing. It’s good to be reminded now and again.