Perhaps the most significant news of the week for the book industry is that the dispute between online retailer Amazon and publisher Hachette has apparently been resolved, though the precise terms of the agreement have not been made public. At issue was the right to set prices for e-book sales. Hachette was unhappy at Amazon’s attempt to use its clout in the marketplace to dictate terms and drive down the cost of e-books in a way that Hachette regarded as detrimental to the interests of publishers and authors alike. The dispute attracted wide publicity when an alliance of prominent writers, including bestselling authors such as Stephen King and Donna Tartt, objected to Amazon’s tactic of blocking the sales of Hachette books.
The deal between Hachette and Amazon resolves the matter for the moment, though the wider issue of Amazon’s market dominance and its use of the power this grants is far from over, with the New York Times reporting that the US-based organisations Authors United and the Authors Guild are proposing that Amazon should become the subject of an antitrust investigation. One of the authors who spoke out against Amazon, Douglas Preston, remained sceptical about finality of the agreement with Hachette, telling the New York Times: ‘If anyone thinks this is over, they are deluding themselves. Amazon covets market share the way Napoleon coveted territory.’
The effects of the growth of online bookselling and the rise of Amazon are being felt in Australia, and the issues it raises for the local industry and literary culture seem set to become prominent once more. Concerns have been raised about recent approaches made by the British-based online bookseller Book Depository (which is owned by Amazon) to Australian publishers. The Australian is reporting that the Book Depository has been seeking direct-supply deals that would enable it to sell Australian titles back to Australian readers, bypassing local booksellers and avoiding the GST in the process. Meanwhile, the deadline is fast approaching for submissions to the federal government’s Competition Policy Review, which will consider controversial question of parallel importation laws. The Australian Society of Authors, which opposes the lifting of territorial copyright restrictions, has prepared a submission in which it argues that any such move ‘would be fundamentally damaging and destructive to our culture, its trade and educational book sectors, and Australian authors’. Interested parties have until 17 November to make their submissions.
Having taken out the Man Booker Prize only weeks ago, Richard Flanagan is now in line for another, less coveted award. His novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North has made the annual Bad Sex Awards shortlist for a touching scene in which a couple’s tenderlovemaking is interrupted by a dog attacking and killing a fairy penguin. (I suspect the judges may have overlooked that this is obviously intended to be symbolic of something or other, though I am also inclined to think it is one of those rare symbolic moments that Sigmund Freud would probably have said is best left uninterpreted.) Flanagan is joined on the shortlist by an impressive assortment of literary luminaries, including Haruki Murakami, Ben Okri and Michael Cunningham. SRB will, of course, be rooting for Flanagan, but found this year’s shortlist to be disappointingly pedestrian. Its puckering nipples, moist rainforests, mutually satisfactory deflowerings and non-derisive portrayals of premature ejaculation all seem a bit cliched and unimaginative. It is almost as if some of these authors have not bothered to read Roger’s Profanisaurus, which if nothing else has demonstrated the extent to which smutty euphemisms can be a bottomless well of linguistic inventiveness.
On the subject of unusual literary prizes, congratulations are due to Jane Rawson, who last night claimed the bittersweet honour of the Most Underrated Book Award at the Small Press Network’s Independent Publishers Conference (or rather ‘Ind Pub Conf’) for her novel A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2013). No, of course the title had nothing to with it being underrated. Why would you think such a thing?
The eminent French philosopher Alain Badiou will soon be in Australia, providing a rare opportunity to see and hear one of the most influential thinkers of our time. He is to be a guest at a conference that will be held in Melbourne from 21-24 November, which is being hosted by the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy and features an impressive line-up of local philosophers, including SRB contributors Ali Alizadeh and Knox Peden. Badiou will also be appearing in Sydney, where he is scheduled to give a seminar on the subject of ‘Art and Philosophy’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on 29 November.
Ever wondered what a comet sounds like? Well, wonder no more.
This week SRB is pleased to feature Rosemary Sorensen’s thoughtful appreciation of Don Watson’s major new work The Bush. In ‘You Can’t Kill Myths’, Sorensen admires Watson’s ability to weave history, travel narrative, personal reflection and analysis into a profound meditation on the significance of the Australian landscape. She argues that Watson’s engagement with the concept of ‘black armband’ history and the pervasive nationalistic ‘mateship myth’ is an attempt to rethink the very foundations Australian identity and the many ways in which this has been, and continues to be, influenced by our complicated relationship with the bush, as an idea and as a reality:
‘You can’t kill myths,‘ he writes at the end of The Bush, ‘but that doesn’t mean there is no other way of seeing things or that you can’t cultivate something more profound and useful to coexist with them.’ We need to ‘love’ the bush he says, not try to tame it, or punish it for not being like somewhere else, or possess and exploit it to satisfy our pathologies. Indeed, he says, ‘we need to love it as it is and can be, not the way it was and never will be again’.
Our second essay is Timothy Neale’s critique of the unorthodox career of one of Australia’s most prominent Indigenous activists, Noel Pearson. In ‘A Stake in the Game’, Neale surveys Pearson’s published work, including his recent Quarterly Essay A Rightful Place, andargues that Pearson has over several decades negotiated the public policy space with a mixture of pragmatism and idealism. Pearson has been effective at situating himself close to the centres of power, but this has created a political identity that is ambiguous and contradictory. ‘The purpose of A Rightful Place,’ Neale suggests, ‘would seem to be for Pearson to announce his presence but not his actual position.’
Our image this week is Anne Ferran’s ‘Carnal Knowledge’, which will be on display at the Australian Centre for Photography from 8 November 2014 – 18 January 2015 as part of Shadow Land, the largest exhibition of her work to date.
This article was updated on 21 November 2014. It originally stated, incorrectly, that the Melbourne conference at which Alain Badoiu will appear was to be hosted by the Australasian Society of Continental Philosophy.