Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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More than 350 attendees, busiest trade exhibition in years at 2015 ABA conference

Over 350 booksellers, suppliers and other industry members attended this year’s Australian Bookseller Association (ABA) Conference, which was held at the State Library of Victoria from 17-18 May.

ABA CEO Joel Becker told Books+Publishing the initial feedback has been positive. ‘Keeping to the theme of the conference “Curating Your Community”, keynotes by Kinokuniya senior executive Hiroshi Sogo and social researcher Hugh Mackay analysed the challenges and opportunities facing bookshops on a global and local level—and in both cases, made the cogent point that booksellers need to engage with their communities to survive and thrive,’ said Becker.

Becker said the trade exhibition was the ‘best attended for many years’, with all of the stalls booked out weeks ahead of the event. He also praised the ‘moving speech’ by Australian of the Year Rosie Batty at the gala dinner, as well as Steven Carroll’s ‘passionate’ Miles Franklin oration immediately after the closure of the conference.  

‘We will be sending a survey to conference attendees this week to get their views on what worked, and what can be improved upon, before we make a final decision of where the next conference—planned, at this stage, for late May—will be held,’ said Becker.

Culture and community            

The conference kicked off with keynote presentations from Sogo, director of international business development at Kinokuniya, and Mackay, social researcher and author of The Art of Belonging (Macmillan), who both spoke about the role of booksellers in the local community. Sogo gave an overview of the Japanese book industry and Kinokuniya’s place in it, describing Kinokuniya as ‘a theatre where people meet books’. The audience was particularly interested in a popular Japanese book event called a ‘biblio-battle’, where readers get five minutes to promote their favourite book to an audience.

Mackay spoke about social shifts towards isolation and how booksellers can respond to these shifts by establishing themselves as a community hub. Mackay said bookshops should be ‘magnets for the creative, curious and intellectual’, and that booksellers should ‘focus not just on what they are selling but on the experiences that make people feel better about themselves’.

Sluggish start to 2015 sales

The second day of the conference began with a presentation from Nielsen Book Australia’s Shaun Symonds, who reported that Australian book sales for the first 19 weeks of the year (to 9 May) were down 3.7% in volume and 2.3% in value compared to the same period last year.

The fall was led by a drop in children’s book sales in both volume and value. After strong growth in 2014 (up 8.1% in volume and 11.7% in value on 2013), children’s book sales are down 5.7% in volume and 2.3% in value in the first 19 weeks compared to the same period last year. Children’s books currently make up 31% of total market value.

Symonds reported that fiction sales for the first 19 weeks are relatively flat, with volume down 0.8% and value down 1.8% on the same time last year. This compares to a decline in fiction sales of 4.9% in volume and 5.1% in value in 2014 compared to 2013. Adult fiction makes up 25% of total market value.

After flat sales (-0.9% volume and -0.1% value) in 2014, nonfiction has recorded a drop of 2.8% and 2.7% in volume and value respectively, to make up 44% of total market value.

As previously reported by Books+Publishing, overall sales in 2014 were up 2.3% in volume and 2.0% value according to Nielsen data. Symonds said the 2014 figures were a good result compared to Nielsen’s other English-language territories, such as New Zealand (down 0.6% in volume, up 0.1% in value) and the UK (down 1.3% in volume and 1.9% in value). The US market recorded a jump of 2.4% in volume in 2014.

Symonds also highlighted that the book industry was the only entertainment industry in Australia to record a growth in 2014, with cinema, games, and DVD/Blu-Ray sales all falling, although Symonds noted the data doesn’t include the uptake of streaming services.

The top 10 titles for the year to 9 May are:

  • American Sniper (Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen & Jim DeFelice, HarperCollins) 88,558
  • Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn, Hachette) 62,040
  • Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins, Doubleday) 59,164
  • Family Food (Pete Evans, Plum) 50,465
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Richard Flanagan, Vintage) 41,308
  • The Long Haul (Jeff Kinney, Puffin) 39,922
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (E L James, Arrow Books) 39,257
  • Wild (Cheryl Strayed, Atlantic) 35,061
  • Going Paleo (Pete Evans & Nora T Gedgaudas, Plum) 34,998
  • The 52-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffith & Terry Denton, Pan) 34,654.


What kids really want

Another session sought to find out what kids really want to read. Local high-school student Bianca Pradolin told the audience teen readers are more interested in reading stand-alone books as they grow older because they don’t have enough time to invest in series as they did when they were younger. Pradolin also spoke enthusiastically about how effective shelf-talkers are for teen readers.

The Little Bookroom co-owner Leesa Lambert said a revelation for her had been hiring younger staff members for tasks such as gift-wrapping. From this she’s learnt that some younger book buyers are much more receptive to suggestions from staff members closer to their own age.

The panelists and audience agreed that there is a gap in the market for a wider variety of books for middle-grade readers. Helen O’Dare from Hinkler Books pointed out that the top 10 bestselling children’s books are often from a small selection of authors. O’Dare also predicted a trend away from ‘depressing’ YA books such as those by John Green, saying that not all teens were looking for heavy stories.

Staffing and marketing

Several practical sessions focussed on employment legislation and digital marketing. Marion Whalan from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia gave an overview of the flexibility clause in employment contracts, which allows employers to bundle items such as penalty rates and leave-loading into the one wage, as long as employees are not worse off under the arrangement.

Digital marketing expert Yvonne Adele spoke about the ‘five pillars for online marketing success’: website, blog, newsletter, social media and search-engine optimisation. In a presentation packed with tips and insights, Adele emphasised the importance of optimising websites for tablets and smart-phones, noting that Google now penalises websites that are not responsive to these devices; regularly updating websites with new content, which improves a website’s Google ranking; and using Facebook’s targeted advertising and audience insights tools.

AGM and awards

The ABA held its annual general meeting during the conference, with Chris Redfern stepping down from the management committee.

The conference also included the presentation of the ABA Booksellers of the Year awards at a dinner on 17 May.


Category: Conferences Local news