Tag Archives: distribution

Jumping the Poetic Hurdle – what can we learn from the music industry?

All this music talk has got me interested in how the literary establishment can learn from the music industry. We all remember the death of the music industry articles that were circulating at the start of this decade, how the industry was haemorrhaging with the invent of Napster and other download technology. Well the Jumping the Poetic Hurdle interviews I did recently tell a similar story… So, this Lost Shark has been doing some reading and thought these articles were well worth sharing. We may stand to learn alot from what the music industry has been through.

Can the publishing industry learn from the music industry?

Why Amazon Should Try a “Radiohead Experiment” on the Kindle

What If the Kindle Succeeds?

What the literary establishment must learn from Hip-Hop

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Do publisher’s dream of electric books?

I was recently reading Electric Alphabet and came across an article that provides some great reading around the topic of publishing and distribution:

Do publisher’s still dream of electronic books? is a great interview with Soft Skull Press main man Richard Nash about what is happening on the digital publishing horizon and the cultural economy of books.

Today on Electric Alphabet, Kate has also raised the idea of a poetry publishing co-op. This is a great idea and a role that the newly formed SPUNC may fill with flying colours…

Here’s hoping!


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Jumping the Poetic Hurdle (part 6) – an interview with Tiggy Johnson

To continue the discussion about the publication and distribution of poetry in Australia, I thought it would be interesting to speak with publishers of literary journals both in print and online. First up I spoke with Tiggy Johnson from literary annual, page seventeen.


As a small, independent publisher, what do you see are the major challenges for the publication and distribution of poetry in the 21st century?

This is a tough one and probably something I don’t tend to think about a lot. Maybe I should, and, after engaging in discussions about this with other small, independent publishers, I often come away feeling like there’s heaps more for me to do. But, if I am honest with myself, I think it might be more suitable that I stay perhaps somewhat naïve as, if I spend too much time and energy worrying about publication and particularly distribution of poetry, it would all seem too hard and I’d possibly give it all away.

This is possibly a luxury I can afford given I am such a small publisher, producing only one literary journal per year. At times, I have considered producing additional titles, but other than the time commitment (that I don’t currently have), I guess the idea of marketing and distribution turns me off a little. For now, I am happy with the success of page seventeen and doing the distribution myself.

I feel it’s unlikely that there will be a solution to distribution in the near future.


Why is it that poetry, an art that arguably best reflects the speed at which we absorb ideas, information and imagery, is being neglected by corporate publishing houses and distributors throughout Australia?

Perhaps if Jamie Durie were to write a collection this might change? And really, we probably don’t want that. It’s all about the money. Everyone knows there’s no money in publishing poetry. Independent publishers publish poetry for other reasons, such as its cultural value, and accept that they may sell enough copies only to ensure they may continue to publish more.


Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? What is the future of poetry publishing and distribution?

I don’t see a light as far as distribution of actual books goes, but there are more poetry journals appearing online. This will help ensure poetry remains available to readers as well as potentially helping the (non-poetry-reading) public to become more aware of its existence. Advances in printing technology also help ensure books are still being produced. Printing costs wouldn’t be viable for page seventeen if it weren’t for digital technology.


What is on the horizon for page seventeen?

Mostly more of the same. Issue 7 in 2009. I’m not currently looking to produce anything additional to the annual issue of page seventeen.

However things are changing from the inside with procedures and so on. With the current issue (Issue 6), I stepped aside from reading submissions, and adopted an editorial committee. This proved to be successful for everyone involved, and so it will continue to happen. I guess we are moving from a journal that not only promotes the published work of new writers (along those who are more established, of course) to a publisher that provides additional opportunities to those ‘new’ to the field in other ways too.

In 2009 we will be running our short story and poetry competition again and will also be accepting general submissions. We are changing the general submission guidelines too, so look out for those, along with a new cover sheet.


About Tiggy:

Tiggy Johnson is the editor/publisher of the annual literary journal page seventeen. She also writes fiction and poetry, some of which can be found in Cordite, paper wasp, kipple, The Mozzie and on Melbourne (Connex) trains as part of the Moving Galleries exhibition. She was awarded 2nd prize in the Herald-Sun Short Story Competition 2004, and her short story collection Svetlana or otherwise was published in 2007 (Mockingbird/Ginninderra Press).

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Supply and Demand in the Art Economy

I was reading Electric Alphabet yesterday and came across a great article called ‘Supply and Demand in the Art Economy’. Really interesting stuff in light of the discussion we have been having here on Another Lost Shark with publishers regarding the state of poetry publication and distribution. Read the article here:


And for those of you who have not checked out Electric Alphabet, it is definitely worth the click: http://electricalphabet.wordpress.com/

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Jumping the Poetic Hurdle (part 5) – an interview with Lyn Reeves

The final interview in the series with small publishers is with Lyn Reeves from Pardalote Press. There will be future interviews with online publishers, but for now, let’s see what Lyn has to say about the current state of poetry publishing and distribution in Australia.


As a small press publisher, what do you see are the major challenges for the publication and distribution of poetry in 21st century?

Recently I attended the Publishers’ Market run by Australian Poetry Centre at Glenfern. An informal forum, ‘Is Poetry Worth Publishing’ identified marketing and distribution as the main problems faced by small press publishers. Another area we discussed was the difficulty of getting our books reviewed in major newspapers and journals. However, we didn’t come up with any real answers.

Other major challenges are lack of resources – time, staff and money. Most poetry presses are run by poets, simply for the love of doing it. These poets have to find time for their own writing, and the tension of balancing both pursuits is not easy to resolve.

It’s not inexpensive to produce books, and if sales aren’t returning the outlay and bringing in enough to keep the press afloat, it will fold. Print runs are usually small, which increases the cost per unit. Booksellers and distributors take up to 70% of the RRP; the royalty to the author is another 10%. This doesn’t leave much for the publisher once printing and design costs are met. Direct marketing is the most efficient way to sell, and to avoid the books languishing in bookshops, becoming shop-soiled and unsaleable. Pardalote Press has been fortunate in receiving a number of grants, donations and sponsorships to produce its books and enable it to keep going, but it isn’t a profit-making venture.

The most challenging area for Pardalote, as for many other small presses, is promotion. I run the press alone, facilitating all aspects of proofreading, design and printing. These are the things I enjoy and can do well, but marketing is not one of my skills. Though I’ve tried a range of approaches to getting the word out – website, media releases and review copies, launches, emails, mail-outs, distributors, advertising – I’ve found that the most successful way to sell is through the authors themselves. When authors are active in giving workshops and readings and promoting their books in other ways, they usually manage to sell a good number of their books. Hopefully SPUNC (Small Press Underground Networking Community) will help address some of the difficulties in promoting to a wider audience than small presses can afford to reach on their own.


Why is poetry, an art that arguably best reflects the speed at which we absorb ideas, information and imagery, is being neglected by corporate publishing houses and distributors throughout Australia?

It’s a reflection of the fact that poetry isn’t a money-earner and the corporate publishing houses are interested in the bottom line. Poetry doesn’t have a high profile in our society. There are the well-known Australian names like Les Murray and Dorothy Porter but the main audience for poetry is other poets. Poetry is considered an esoteric and fringe activity by mainstream culture. The general public would rather buy books on sport or gardening or biographies of celebrities or, when it comes to literature, books by writers they’ve heard of. Even when some boutique bookshops stock poetry they rarely take more than a few copies, and these are usually hidden at the back of the shop somewhere out of sight.

‘Reader Education’ can help overcome some of this resistance, and there’s often talk about how to do this, but it does need effort, funding and coordination to be effective. I’ve found that when, as a poet, I’ve been involved in taking readings to new audiences outside the literary community, people are generally very positive about poetry.

Small presses have arisen in response to the decline in interest by the corporate publishers, to meet the need for poets’ voices to be heard and read. I doubt if any of them actually make money out publishing, but that’s not the point of it, though it would be nice.

My own experience with using a national distributor wasn’t successful, so I’ve set up a shopping cart on my website. I still rely on the poets to let people know their work is available, and to personally sell and promote their books. Pardalote also hosts books by a number of other Tasmanian poets on its site.


Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? What is the future of poetry publishing and distribution?

That does seem like a pretty bleak picture but people will go on writing and reading poetry, so there will always be the need to share their words abroad.

I don’t think of it as being inside a dark tunnel. I think you have to accept your limitations as a small press, the appeal of poetry to a large market, and work within those parameters. It’s more like being in a field adjacent to the bigger marketplace, but that field is full of the light of many voices, the joy of creativity, both in the writing of poems and the making and sharing of books. The rewards are in the doing. It would be nice to reach bigger audiences; as communicators we all want that. So we go on trying different approaches. And we do need to break even so that we can keep on producing the books.

Electronic delivery of poetry will play a greater role in publishing and distribution. There are more and more journals going online. Though it’s been slow to catch on, the e-book seems to be gaining more acceptance. The problem seems to be how to pay for the product, but in digital format it’s less expensive to produce. The internet will certainly play a role in making poetry more available, but the printed book won’t be ousted altogether. There’s something about the intimacy of poetry that harmonises with the tactile pleasure of a lovingly made book. We spend so much time in front of screens, it’s good to relax and get comfortable with a book. There’s less distraction and for me it’s a more focussed way to engage with the writing.


What is on the horizon for Pardalote?

Pardalote Press has been publishing poetry for a little over eight years now, beginning with a chapbook by Eric Beach, Red Heart, My Country. Initially I set out only to produce chapbooks, something affordable that could be sold at readings, but soon the lure of ‘the book’, beautifully designed and presented, took hold and I’ve continued to strive for a high standard in production values, as well as content, in the fourteen titles that make up the Pardalote list to date.

The most recent collection is Postcards from the Asylum by Karen Knight. The manuscript won the Alec Bolton Award in 2007 and is a powerful book. Reviews to date have been consistently stunning.

At the moment I’m editing a new collection of translations by Ian Johnston of ancient Chinese poetry, a sequel to Singing of Scented Grass, which has been my most successful book so far. The poems in Waiting for the Owl are taken from an earlier period, mostly from the Han Dynasty. That should be available some time later this year.

Because I work alone I can only do one manuscript a year, though there have been times when I’ve done two or three. I’d like to do more. I’ve had to send back some wonderful manuscripts by very fine poets that I would have loved to publish, and sometimes had to disappoint people I’ve had a tentative arrangement with, because life events made it necessary for me to cut back on how much publishing I could do. I try not to plan too far ahead. There’s another collection under way that may come out before or after the Chinese poems. But I’m also working on finalising a manuscript of my own that a publisher has offered to take up, and I’m doing some postgraduate study. It’s important to find time for my own poetry this year. At the moment I can’t accept any new submissions.

As well as producing these collections I need to empty my cupboards by selling more of the books that remain in unopened boxes, to make more room and bring in some funds to help with making more books. I wish for a marketing person, committed to poetry and willing to work for virtually no financial reward. Although I use a distributor in Tasmania, poetry really needs passionate representation that distributors don’t give it.

I often think it would be good to work with a small team of people with a mix of skills. That way we could get more poetry books out there, and there’s no shortage of worthwhile manuscripts to choose from. I’m also interested in the idea of e-books, especially for those titles that are out of print. Learning how to do that will be a whole new journey.


About Lyn:

Lyn Reeves is a poet, editor, managing director of Pardalote Press and an associate editor of the literary journal, Famous Reporter. She has collaborated with painters, print-makers, musicians, photographers, workers and scientists for various poetry events. Awards include grants from Arts Tasmania and the Australia Council, and residencies at Varuna, St. Helens, and Darwin. Lyn has been a featured reader at many festivals, including the Queensland Poetry Festival, Sydney Writers’ Festival, Word Storm, The Tasmanian Poetry Festivals, and at other venues in Tasmania and interstate. A collection of her haiku, Walking the Tideline, appeared in December 2001. Her poetry collection Speaking with Ghosts was published by Ginninderra Press in 2002. More recently, she has published two chapbooks, Beads (Picaro Press, 2007) and the ink brushed distance (Walleah Press, 2008). She is one of four poets whose work appears in the award-winning anthology Seasoned with Honey (Walleah Press, 2008).

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Jumping the Poetic Hurdle (part 3) – an interview with Ralph Wessman

As part of the ongoing discussion about the publication and distribution of poetry in Australia, this lost shark has fired off a few questions to some of our country’s fine independent publishers to get their view on the future of poetry publication and distribution and to see what they are up to in 2009.

First up in this series is an interview with Ralph Wessman from Walleah Press. So, let’s hear from Ralph…


As a small, independent publisher, what do you see are the major challenges for the publication and distribution of poetry in the 21st century?

Speaking personally – about poetry distribution – I’ve never been a good marketer of the titles I publish, though it’s an area I intend to improve on. Not sure if having joined SPUNC – the Small Press Underground Networking Community (SPUNC), self-described as a representative body for small and independent Australian publishers – will help much in this regard, from what I can gather SPUNC doesn’t see itself being involved in the distribution side of poetry; I listened in to a Melbourne forum in October – ‘Trends in Poetry Publishing in Australia Today: Is poetry worth publishing?’ – which was part of the Festival Franco-Anglais de Poesie. Heard Antoni Jach and Susan Hawthorn (both involved with independent publishing, both members of SPUNC) suggesting SPUNC’s role as an organisation would remain that of a representative body acting to promote the views of small press participants and not as a distributor. Nevertheless, I’m hopeful SPUNC will prove a source of marketing ideas or strategies.

I get the impression that distribution is problematic not just for poetry publishers but for journals as well. (As publisher of famous reporter, I’m interested in journals). At the festival just mentioned, I spoke to the editors of a couple of Melbourne-based journals (Etchings, Harvest) about their distribution methods, both said that at this stage they were committed to doing it themselves. Etchings’ editors had journeyed across to Adelaide and up to Melbourne in an effort to flog their magazine (one comment was ‘We found Sydney very different, unlike Melbourne where there are chains such as Readings … in Sydney it’s more commonly the independents.’) with Harvest also doing the rounds locally, for the moment at least.

As for challenges to poetry publication, it seems in a state of flux at the moment. The Oz Council are in the process of making (as yet unknown) changes to its support mechanisms. I think increased web publication is the way of the future, but the print medium feels good in the hand, seems pretty safe at the moment. I think if I had an inclination to make another investment in time and energy into publishing another journal, (which I don’t), I’d go the way of a web journal; it doesn’t surprise me so many do, and with good results.

Why is it that poetry, an art that arguably best reflects the speed at which we absorb ideas, information and imagery, is being neglected by corporate publishing houses and distributors throughout Australia?

Because they’re businesses? Back when Penguin made its decision to cut its poetry list in Australia, it seemed to crystallise the notion that an investment in poetry – in poetry’s worth – didn’t extend beyond the profit margin. Well, maybe I’m being tough on them. Some people argue if poetry made itself ‘more accessible’ it might just capture the public imagination and thus the interest of the publishing houses. But it’s argued elsewhere – and just as persuasively – that poetry isn’t a commodity as such and would do well to forget marketing and concentrate on its raison d’etre.

Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? What is the future of poetry publishing and distribution?

A hard one. I’m a small player on the scene, take things on a day to day basis, I’m not sure if I have an eye for the bigger picture – though speaking of the immediate future: there’ve been a few instances of publishers sending their books to printers overseas – to Hong Kong, for instance – because they can get a better price, but I’ve heard of a couple of occasions where that’s been knocked on the head because of the recent savaging of the dollar.

What is on the horizon for Walleah Press?

Well, I’m pleased to have come to grips with the software publishing package, Indesign. For two or three of the collections I’ve published the typesetting has cost $800 or $900 (and I’m sure they were bargain basement prices) but I’ve since learnt to manage that side of things myself. Not ‘professionally’, but at least comfortably; insofar as the economics – what I can afford! – of publishing is concerned. Having that skill is wonderful; (empowering! don’t laugh). I’d hope that I can continue on with my magazine, I enjoy that even though the last few weeks of putting it together (June and December) drive me crazy; as to a lesser extent does my mailout cos that usually takes me a month. I’m not quite ready for a more concerted effort at publishing poetry, at this stage; perhaps within another eighteen months, two years.

About Ralph Wessman:

Ralph Wessman frets over typefaces and paper stocks, publishes books of literary merit – poetry collections primarily – and since 1987, the literary journal ‘famous reporter’.

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