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The Age

Saturday February 26, 2011

Jason Steger

Looking around for someone to blame; the cost of the REDgroup collapse; the irrevocable rise of the ebook; a canny bookshop in Clunes; du Maurier's Doll turns up; and the oddest of books. By Jason Steger. It's not black and whiteWHEN REDgroup opted for administration last week, the parent company of Borders and Angus & Robertson blamed two factors. One was the move to online shopping by Australian consumers keen to take advantage of the strong dollar, cheaper prices and the absence of GST. The other was the absence of parallel importation. Yet in its submission to the most recent Productivity Commission inquiry into territorial copyright, REDgroup advocated the retention of the current 30-day rule (which requires rights holders to publish books published overseas within 30 days or face competing editions) but with some minor adjustments to the supply terms and pricing. REDgroup said its desired outcome was the continuation of copyright protection for authors and publishers and an improvement in publication timing, stock availability and price competitiveness. "Removing the restrictions against parallel importing will not of itself improve pricing, availability or margins for Australian booksellers and consumers."Who's owed whatHOW much publishers are owed by REDgroup, which held between 20 and 25 per cent of the market for books, is not clear. One report this week said the group owed non-staff creditors $170 million, of which 75 per cent was to Pacific Equity Partners, the group's owner. What is clear is that the group's record over the past few years put some publishers on their guard. On several occasions last year, they would not supply books because they had not been paid. So perhaps the impact of the collapse will not be as bad as it might have been. Nevertheless, estimates of the amount owed to publishers range from $30 million to as much as $50 million. The situation in the US is slightly different. Borders opted for administration only a couple of days before its namesake in Australia (with which there is no connection) did the same, and its debts to publishers are said by Publishers Weekly to be in the region of $US314 million. Penguin US is owed more than $US41 million, followed by Hachette, which is seeking $US37 million, HarperCollins $US26 million, and Pan Macmillan $US11.4 million. One Australian publisher reckons you can get a picture of the total amount owed to local publishers by dividing the US total by 10 because although Australia has 1/15th the population it has a healthier book trade. The first creditors meeting is on Tuesday.Ebook sales boomingFIGURES from the American Association of Publishers for book sales in 2010 showed an increase on the previous year of 3.6 per cent to $US11.7 billion. And in December, with Christmas clearly in mind, Americans upped their buying by 2.4 per cent. But it won't surprise you to learn that the biggest growth was seen in the ebook sector, which for the year showed growth of 164.4 per cent up from $US167 million in 2009 to $US441 million and for December growth of 164.8 per cent, $US49.5 million compared with $US19 million. Ebook sales accounted for more than 8 per cent of the trade market (general books, as opposed to educational, say) compared with 3.2 per cent in 2009. While children's and adult books performed well in December, in the US year-on-year children's/ young adult paperbacks dipped 5.7 per cent to $US547 million and hardbacks slipped by 9.5 per cent to $694 million. Adults' hardbacks dipped 5.1 per cent to $US1.6 billion, paperbacks down 2 per cent to $1.4 billion, and mass-market titles down 6.3 per cent to $US674 million. The popularity of ebooks has prompted The New York Times to add that category to its weekly bestseller lists. This week, the three bestselling novels are Lisa Gardner's Alone, James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge's Tick Tock, and, of course, Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Bestselling non-fiction ebooks are: Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, Todd Burpo's Heaven is for Real, and Donald Rumsfeld's Known and Unknown.Vouching for BordersIF YOU have one of those Borders gift vouchers and are having trouble redeeming it or are being asked to chip in the equivalent amount of cash as well and are reluctant to do so, you might want to take advantage of an offer from an enterprising bookshop in Clunes. Miss Agatha Greene's Quality Books, which specialises in rare and collectable books, opens on March 26 and for two weeks will redeem Borders vouchers up to the value of $30. Clunes will hold its annual Back to Booktown weekend on May 15-16. booktown.clunes.orgLost stories discoveredFANS of Daphne du Maurier will relish the discovery of five missing stories written by the author of Rebecca early in her career. The discoveries were made by Ann Willmore, who runs a bookshop in du Maurier's home town of Fowey in Cornwall. They will be published in May in a collection to be called The Doll (the other seven stories therein are also early pieces), but it is the title story that has attracted most attention. It was written in 1928 and tells of a young man who meets a woman at a party and wants to take their relationship further. But when he visits her home he discovers the real object of her affections is a mechanical sex doll. Du Maurier's son Kits Browning said the story was "riveting and quite ahead of its time I only wish it had been discovered when my mother was still alive. It's a very dark and disturbing story for someone who was 21 when she wrote it, and from the sort of background she came from. It's all about a male sex doll. I would have loved to have teased her about it". Willmore found the stories in The Editor Regrets, a 1937 collection of stories that had been rejected for publication by a variety of magazines. (Other authors featured in the book were Alec Waugh [Evelyn's bother], C. S. Forester, and H. E. Bates.) No doubt very different from the early Enid Blyton novel discovered this week Mr Tumpy's Caravan is said to be a fantasy about a caravan with a mind of its own.Odd title holdersAND here is the shortlist for this year's Bookseller oddest book title award: 8th International Friction Stir Welding Symposium Proceedings; The Generosity of the Dead; The Italian's One-night Love Child; Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way; Myth of the Social Volcano and What Color is Your Dog?

© 2011 The Age

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