Publishing : Australia vs Overseas… and the pandemic

Will I be able to afford to buy my favorite new release post-pandemic?

Does the U.S. economy have a monopoly on publishing economy? What do forecasters say for writers in America and Australian the face of the pandemic? Are our futures safe?

With today’s reach via the internet, authors can reach international markets with e-book sales easily; and shipping costs may impact sales for hardback or paperback copies, but that too can be circumvented by stocking large online resellers, or subscribing to print-on-demand services. If you are self-published, you have complete control of these revenue streams, but for traditionally published there is a quagmire of International law around sales and distribution that your publisher handles. Measured with a sharp eye on cost/benefit analysis whether your book will perform well in certain regions. It’s all a very intricate web of research, finance, legal rights, and marketing. So does it make sense for Australian writers to court American publishers for their debut with a traditional publisher considering USA has a double the market share compared to their home country?

It’s an interesting topic that gives me a headache if I think too much about it – because of all the moving parts. I know some published authors here in Australia mention that it’s hard to break into the U.S. market because they’re viewed as sub-par (depending who you talk to) and compared to Australian authors who have signed in the States and performed really well in all markets. Much of the information I’ve garnered is anecdotal, but it is from working writers, published authors, so there has to be a grain of truth to the snub Australian authors face when trying to break into overseas traditionally published markets. Or it may simply be that you are a big fish from a small pond entering the ocean… you are lost in a fierce amount of competition in turbulent currents with little or no experience on how to navigate those riptides. You not only have to have skill in writing, but a great team with connections on your side to catch the tide in your favor.

Okay enough with the sea analogies.

Given that the U.S. market share is the largest in the globe, (followed closely by China) there is potential to earn the most income from breaking into that market. So comparing authors (of any nationality) published in America to those of their Australian counterparts is like pulling up to a Mercedes Benz at the traffic lights and find your sitting on a scooter. Same amount of work went into the finished product, but you just didn’t have access to the market (and subsequently, the funds.) The average Australian author earns an average salary of A$13,000 (US$10,007) compared to an average author from the USA – US$51,170 (AU$66,473). That’s a huge difference in ratio of income to market share! What has me alarmed is that an updated figure for Australian Authors earnings after the impact of the pandemic reported by Helen Garner, Christos Tsiolkas and Charlotte Wood (when discussing the Federal Arts Package) recently have estimated the average income at as low as $AU 3,000 ($US2,319). No matter which way you look at it, the average Aussie writer is living WELL below the poverty line if they rely on this medium for their sole income. Despite the larger challenges, it’s looking like breaking into the American market is highly lucrative and worth the risk.

That research further shows that “among 33 OECD countries, Australia ranked 26th in the level of investment in arts and culture from all three tiers of government. The OECD average was 1.11% of GDP compared with Australia’s 0.77%.” So not only are Australians earning near the lowest income from writing in developed countries, it is also investing even less in supporting and developing this sector. I see incentives from writing groups here in Australia, and read great content getting published, but it honestly does not get enough hype and marketing overseas… we have such incredible talent, but when I look at market studies and government support for the industry, it makes me want to pack a suitcase and relocate to the States.

Many of the papers and studies I’ve been reading pre- and post-Covi-19 pandemic paint a fluctuating economy. Bookstores closing, yet book sales rising… it’s all very confusing. I feel it’s more like luck guiding our careers. Take a punt and cross your fingers to hope for the best. But above all be consistent and don’t give up… stay in the fight until you get your break.

So, putting aside all the technical jargon, let’s ask readers these questions:

  • Do you care about the nationality of an author when you buy their book?
  • Do you intentionally seek out foreign published works when looking to pick up a new book or rely on advertising materials or suggestions from the likes of Goodreads and Amazon?
  • Do bloggers or friends help you decide on your next purchase?
  • How much does cost come into play when you buy a book?

Because, honestly, the global market would not be sustainable if consumer behavior changed. If American readers branched out of regional sales in the publishing industry – and they can afford to because the cost price would be negligible – it would open doors for a truly global market. But does that mean the average U.S. reader holds the future of the global market in their reading choices? What do you think?

Personally, every time I buy a new hardback or paperback in Australia, I’m looking at needing to spend on average $AU25.00 ($US19.50) no matter what the country of origin. If I purchase online or instore… that puts buying physical books into the category of a luxury item when comparing it to the unemployment benefits we receive in this country. Just to put it in perspective. Obviously there are cheaper options, like waiting for a sale, buying second hand, borrowing from the library, or purchasing an e-book copy. But it means as a reader, my access to the market is limited. As an avid reader (and writer) that depresses me.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

2 thoughts on “Publishing : Australia vs Overseas… and the pandemic

  1. kaychamberlain says:

    This article literally had my mouth falling open in shock and surprise. Thanks for doing the research. It suck that authors face red tape, market bias, restricted funding, and have to duke it out for a market share. Even with all those factors, if you don’t try, you don’t get anywhere… it’s making me take a more practical view of my writing career and do a bit more research into how I want to market my novels.

    Let’s hope the AU figures for Aussie writers start to trend on the up-tick!

    • femaleinferno says:

      Yeah, I was horrified. Australian authors make so little compared to the US conterparts. And there is real elitism in some overseas companies. But with the internet and online bookstores the market is getting more intermingled in sales. If you have a savvy marketing plan (and budget) you can circumvent the gatekeepers and build your own success. But it’s still all hard work (and a full time job) which eats into your writing/editing time.

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