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Posted by Kate, May 10, 2011

Kate’s Australian trip

Well, that was fun. Tiring, of course, but fun.

I mean my trip to Australia last week, from which I am still recovering (thank you, British Airways economy class… though a total of 46 hours in the air out of 156 hours takes it out of you however you travel, probably).

The main event was the Allen and Unwin sales conference. It was great to spend time with the people at Allen and Unwin, not least because I wouldn’t have been able to pick any of them out of a line-up just six short months ago, and now we’re in touch almost every day. The picture above shows, from left to right, Kristy Rogerson (Children’s Product Asst); me (it’s an unflattering angle or an unflattering blouse – what can I say?!); Kate Justelius-Wright (Marketing Coordinator – Schools & Libraries); Liz Bray (Children’s Books Director); and Jyy-Wei Ip (Marketing Coordinator – Trade).

It was also good to see Robert Gorman, last seen after the London Book Fair, and who, as MD of Allen and Unwin, is head of the whole show:

Allen and Unwin starts to distribute Nosy Crow’s books this month, and some of them are already in Australian bookshops.

It was, as always when I travel abroad, interesting to look at differences (from my home territory in the UK) in the bookselling landscape and to reflect on how these impact on publishing.

The relative strength of the independent bookshop sector as a source of publishers’ sales is one thing that is striking about the Australian market, and the independent bookselling sector seems to be holding its own while chain booksellers in Australia are no more immune from the challenges of chain bookselling than other comparable operations in the US and the UK. Book Marketing Limited’s Books and the Consumer survey suggested that the UK had seen a reduction of the volume of books sold through independent bookshops to 5.4% of the UK book market by value and 15% of the market by volume (I know that’s an extraordinary disparity, but I have looked at the graphs carefully and done the sums more than once). I don’t know the comparable figures for Australia – do please tell me if you know by writing a comment – but I do know that, for example, Allen and Unwin is still producing point-of-sale display material and dumpbins in a way that UK publishers really don’t do any more… because, in our market, there aren’t enough customers able to take generic book display material to make it economically viable to produce it.

I went to some terrific independent book shops while I was in Australia, several of which had a skew towards children’s books. The first was The Children’s Bookshop and Capella Bookshop in Beecroft, a suburb of Sydney, which is run by the immensely energetic and likeable Paul Macdonald: a man as interested in talking about digital publishing and apps as he was in talking about the highly impressive list of UK authors and illustrators who have done events in the converted two bedroom flat above his shop – a group that included Jacqueline Wilson, Julia Donaldson and Anthony Browne.

Here’s Paul in the children’s section of his shop:

I dropped into The Lindfield Bookshop, in Lindfield, another Sydney suburb. I chatted to Scott Whitmont, who took time out from an Olivia Newton John dinner he was running that evening to find out a bit about Nosy Crow.

Here’s Scott in the children’s section of his shop:

I also got to meet Galina Marinov of Leading Edge, which works to amplify the marketing and buying power of Australia’s independent bookstores.

I visited other kinds of shops too (and Allen and Unwin had arranged a pretty impressive tour last time I was in Australia). I went to department stores like Myer and discount department stores like Big W. The discount department store is not something we have in the UK, and it’s interesting to see what books – UK and Australia – are in each of these different environments… and, of course, to try to picture Nosy Crow’s children’s books in them and to work out where they might fit best.

I went out to Scholastic Australia and to an extraordinary bit of Scholastic’s Australian business, Australian Standing Orders, which supplies copies of (mainly) Australian books every month to Australian school libraries. In the Scholastic Australia office in Sydney, there was a really impressive collection of framed John Winch envelopes (something that made me feel a bit squirmy about my world-class collection of Axel Scheffler envelopes, which are not so beautifully displayed):

Oh, and there were interviews with, among others, Susanne Gervay for Reading Time and for The Little Big Book Club.

In between, there were great conversations. I think my favourite was with Liz Bray about the challenges and rewards of her work with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which I found inspiring, humbling and illuminating – not bad for a car journey to a shopping mall in the suburbs of Sydney.

Of course, there were fun-‘n’-games too. Here’s Allen and Unwin’s dapper publishing legend, Paul Donovan, at a dinner (in a German restaurant) to celebrate the forthcoming publication of Australian Merridy Eastman’s gentle and funny memoir of her time spent as a German wife and mother in Munich after a whirlwind romance:

After a presentation at the Allen and Unwin sales conference, in which one rep requested either a video version of the session or a Kate Wilson/Nosy Crow Road Show, I felt I had peaked, and so consigned myself to the tender mercies of British Airways once again.