Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Box office and books sales up at SWF 2014; Solomon the top seller

The sun shone particularly brightly at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF), which ran from 19-25 May, with the warm weather matched by strong box office and book sales for artistic director Jemma Birrell’s second festival.

While official figures won’t be available until mid-June, attendance has been reported at ‘well over 80,000’, with ticket sales up 10% on last year’s festival.

Gleebooks has recorded ‘the biggest sales we’ve ever had’ for its 11th year as festival bookseller. ‘It was extremely busy,’ Gleebooks co-owner Roger Mackell told Books+Publishing. ‘The venue has a great geographic spread and sales were more broadly based than ever before.’ Mackell said he was amazed to have so many books selling over 100 copies.

The bestselling book at the festival bookshop was Far from the Tree by opening night speaker Andrew Solomon (Vintage), which details the stories of parents whose children face various challenges. The bestselling Australian title was Betty Churcher’s Australian Notebooks (Miegunyah) and the top-selling children’s title was Will Kostakis’ YA novel The First Third (Penguin).

While seven of the top 10 titles were nonfiction, Mackell noted that children’s books made up a large portion of sales.

The top 10 titles at the festival bookshop were:

  • Far from the Tree: A Dozen Kinds of Love (Andrew Solomon, Vintage)
  • Zealot: The Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Reza Aslan, A&U)
  • Australian Notebooks (Betty Churcher, Miegunyah)
  • Dear Leader (Jang Jin-Sung, Rider)
  • Peas & Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners (Toksvig Sandi, Profile Books)
  • The First Third (Will Kostakis, Penguin)
  • The Fictional Woman (Tara Moss, HarperCollins)
  • Inkheart: 1 Inkheart Trilogy (Cornelia Funke, The Chicken House)
  • Untangling Spaghetti: Selected Poems from Steven (Steven Herrick, UQP)
  • The Cushion in the Road (Alice Walker, New Press).


‘I’m so happy that Sydney has embraced the diverse writers and events that we have offered up from Australia and around the world,’ said Birrell in a statement. ‘From the monumentally popular screenwriter Vince Gilligan on May 1, to opening address author Andrew Solomon—who was a new discovery for many, and Emma Donoghue—who closed the festival, there has been an exceptional array of words read, spoken and performed.’

Birrell said some of the highlights were: ‘Alice Walker and Archie Roach embracing at the Opera House, Richard Roxburgh in 5×15 making us laugh til we cried with his anecdotes about all the things that have gone awry in live theatre, Michelle de Kretser and Robert Dessaix speaking about their literary friendship and delightful disagreements, Leunig drawing a cartoon duck on our volunteer supervisor, Gary Shteyngart self-medicating on stage, and Ben Quilty interviewing Betty Churcher who wanted to be interviewing Ben Quilty.’

Festival executive director Ben Strout also commented on the ‘diversity of ages and people’ at this year’s festival. ‘It just seems to get broader each year,’ he said.



Category: Local news