About Andrew Wrathall

Andrew Wrathall is publishing and digital media coordinator for Books+Publishing. He writes about upcoming books, helps produce newsletters, makes sure the web systems are running and helps design the layout of the magazine. Follow @andyroflz on Twitter.

Postage costs and the Australian book industry: a history

postboxThe Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) believes the biggest threat to bookshops and other local retailers is postage costs. It offers this example: ‘It costs in excess of ten times more to post one book from Mosman to Penrith than it does to post the exact same book from the UK to Sydney. This is not only damaging local retailing but it is also crippling an Australian institution.’

In 2011, Books+Publishing published a post on the subject, ‘Why is it cheaper to post a book from overseas than within Australia?’. Some of the contributing factors we reported were: the ability of organisations such as the Book Depository to negotiate a volume-based discount from Royal Mail; fluctuations in the Australian dollar; and ‘a substantial difference between the unit costs charged by Australia Post and Royal Mail’.

‘Australia Post … is required to deliver parcels sent through Royal Mail (and other international postal services) within Australia as a member of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). In return for delivering these parcels, Australia Post receives a payment from the Royal Mail,’ a spokesperson for the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy told Books+Publishing at the time. ‘It makes sense then that if parcels coming into Australia are increasing because of retailers like the Book Depository, Australia Post is spending more money on delivering parcels for Royal Mail. The questions then becomes, are the payments received by Australia Post for delivering these parcels covering the costs of delivery?’

The book industry investigates
The Book Industry Strategy Group’s (BISG) report to government, which was published in 2011, goes into further detail on the cost of parcels mailed to Australia from overseas countries such as the UK.

‘Under the rules of the UPU, international package postal rates are determined by the rate charged for a 20g first class priority letter within the destination country,’ explains the BISG report. Australia has a flat letter rate of $0.60, while many other countries, including the UK, have a first class postal rate for letters that results in higher rates for parcels sent to those countries.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, quoted in the BISG report, estimates that UK companies may pay Royal Mail about $3.04 for each 500 gram parcel sent to Australia, as a volume discount for posting 100 parcels (but companies such as Amazon and Book Depository may have a higher volume discount). Royal Mail then effectively passes on 60 cents of that amount to Australia Post, which is forced under international postal union obligations to deliver these parcels and cover the remaining cost of delivery.

‘Australia Post now concedes that delivering parcels from the United Kingdom is a loss-making activity, which suggests that higher prices on their domestic services are in part compensation for its losses of approximately $1.72 per parcel from the United Kingdom,’ said the BISG report.

Australia Post had previously applied to the UPU to register a first class postal rate for letters of $2.60, but the UPU rejected the request. Registering a first class postal rate would close the gap on Australia Post’s delivery cost of overseas mail by moving the cost onto overseas companies.

The BISG report includes a recommendation that ‘the Government initiate negotiations with the Universal Postal Union (UPU) to secure amendment of the appropriate postal treaties to provide more equitable and competitive pricing for print post delivery, where Australia is currently severely disadvantaged’.

The government responds
The former Federal Labor Government formally responded to the BISG recommendations in 2012. It supported the recommendation ‘in principle’ that the government enter into negotiations with the UPU to amend postal treaties. It noted that ‘effecting this recommendation will require renegotiation of Australia’s terminal dues rate which is set by rules established through the Universal Postal Union Convention and Acts’.

‘The rates of payment to Australia Post for inward parcels are set using a formula linked to the domestic standard letter postage rate [of 60 cents],’ said the government. The government said that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is currently talking to members of the union ‘to agree [to] a different letter postage rate to be used for terminal dues’ but with 192 countries as members of the union, ‘negotiations are complex’. ‘Potential options outside of the union treaty arrangements are also being investigated by Australia’s designated operator, Australia Post,’ said the government.

Calls for a first class mail rate
The ABA has called on the current Federal Coalition Government to establish a first class mail rate in Australia to increase postage costs for overseas retailers sending parcels to Australia. In an open letter to the federal Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull, the ABA said:

‘In Australia there is no First Class Mail rate. This has been exploited by many overseas retailers, in particular The Book Depository (an Amazon-owned company). With no First Class Mail rate overseas companies are able to post goods under 400 grams to Australia at the cost of a local stamp. The Book Depository has used this to send orders in individual parcels and to provide free freight to customers in Australia. Under international postal union obligations Australia Post is then forced to deliver overseas parcels at their own cost. These costs have been passed onto Australian businesses and Australian consumers.

‘Free post coupled with a strong Australian dollar has meant that overseas purchases have skyrocketed. Not only that, but Australia Post’s costs have also gone through the roof. Parcel post costs have dramatically increased which means Australian businesses are in effect subsidising their overseas competitors. And now jobs and services are being cut back. Four years ago Australia Post was one of the most profitable government-owned enterprises. Now it is in dire straits.

‘If a first class mail rate was established in Australia overseas retailers would not be able to offer free freight to Australia and the volume of overseas post would decrease to more viable levels. This would reduce Australia Post’s costs and save jobs across the Australian economy.’

BOOK REVIEW: A War of Words: The Man Who Talked 4000 Japanese into Surrender (Hamish McDonald, UQP)

war of wordsA War of Words delves into the military history of Asia in the early 20th century through the life story of Charles Bavier. A man of astonishing military and diplomatic feats, Bavier was born to a Swiss merchant father and raised in Japan by his father’s mistress. Bavier’s exploits included assisting the revolutionaries in the Wuchang Uprising in China, which led to the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. He translated Japanese documents for army intelligence in Melbourne, then left to fight alongside the Anzacs in Gallipoli. During the interwar period he became an agent for MI5 in Singapore and carried out a successful spy mission to discover Japan’s plans for World War II, which British politicians refused to believe. The only drawback in this story is that we don’t really know what happened, as the mission was classified. Bavier also worked in Australia during World War II on a propaganda campaign to convince Japanese soldiers to surrender—no easy feat given that Samurai beliefs about shame would lead many to commit ritual suicide known as seppuku. Hamish McDonald was given Bavier’s manuscript of anecdotes in 1983 when he was working as a foreign journalist in Tokyo. He has created a fascinating biography, which will appeal to those interested in the spy world and Australia’s connections to Asia during World War II.

Andrew Wrathall is the publishing and digital media coordinator at Books+Publishing. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in February 2014. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Max (Marc Martin, Viking)

maxThis picture book tells an emotional story about the relationship between a cheeky seagull called Max and a fish-and-chip shop-owner called Bob. Max has become a friend to Bob, who feeds the bird chips from his store, which is located on an ocean boardwalk. Unfortunately, market forces play their part when, one summer, the nearby fun fair is dismantled. Customers no longer visit the boardwalk, the shops close down and Bob disappears. After waiting for days, then weeks, for Bob’s return, Max decides to fly over the city to search for his friend, until he once again sniffs that familiar fish-and-chip smell. Marc Martin has written a heartfelt story that encourages readers to love Max. To create his unique brand of illustration, Martin uses lino print, splatter paint and sponge textures within sharp stylised shapes, which he previously used in the brilliant picture book The Curious Explorer’s Illustrated Pocket Guide to Exotic Animals A to Z. This is an excellent book for children under five years.

Andrew Wrathall is Books+Publishing’s production guru and enjoys long walks on the beach. This review first appeared in Junior Term 1, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

Miles Franklin Literary Award 2014 longlist announced

The longlist for this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award has been announced.

The longlisted titles are:

The Life and Loves of Lena GauntNarrow Road to the Deep North Book CoverThe Railwayman s Wife

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt (Tracy Farr, Fremantle Press)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Richard Flanagan, Vintage)

The Railwayman’s Wife (Ashley Hay, A&U)

mullumbimbyNight GuestBelomor

Mullumbimby (Melissa Lucashenko, UQP)

The Night Guest (Fiona McFarlane, Hamish Hamilton)

Belomor (Nicholas Rothwell, Text)

GameMy Beautiful EnemyEyrie

Game (Trevor Shearston, A&U)

My Beautiful Enemy (Cory Taylor, Text)

Eyrie (Tim Winton, Hamish Hamilton)

The-Swan-BookAll the Birds Singing

The Swan Book (Alexis Wright, Giramondo)

All the Birds, Singing (Evie Wyld, Vintage).

The shortlist will be announced on 15 May at the State Library of New South Wales. The winner will be announced on 26 June. The winner of this year’s prize will receive a cash prize of $60,000.

For more information on this year’s longlist, click here.

BOOK REVIEW: Better than Fiction: True Travel Tales from Great Fiction Writers (ed by Don George, Lonely Planet)

Better than Fiction is a brilliant collection of travel stories, written especially for Lonely Planet, which spans the globe in the tradition of the publisher’s previous anthologies such as Unpacked: Travel Disaster Stories. The list of Australian and international contributing authors is impressive. Among the highlights, Arnold Zable offers a glimpse of China emerging from the Cultural Revolution; M J Hyland writes about her encounters with thieves in Rome; Nikki Gemmell is changed by love and loss in Antarctica; and Marina Lewycka finds a travellers’ oasis in Malawi. In other wonderful stories, Alexander McCall Smith meets Freudian psychoanalysts in Buenos Aires; Joyce Carol Oates writes of an unnerving visit to San Quentin prison in California; Steven Hall tells an odd but beautiful tale of a shark; and Bryce Courtenay bemoans government restrictions on travellers at airports. Also in separate stories, Steven Amsterdam and Sophie Cunningham refer to the psychoactive side-effects of the same anti-malarial drug. The collection is threaded with great warmth, as readers are invited to travel in the company of these famous authors and experience their passions and revelations; it also shows that nonfiction can indeed be as good as, if not better than, fiction.

Andrew Wrathall is the publishing assistant for Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the August/September issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (Benjamin Law, Black Inc.)

Benjamin Law embarks on a wild ride through Asia to investigate queer culture in Gaysia. In Indonesia he meets the moneyboys who prostitute themselves to Western men, usually preferring the rich older men. In Thailand he visits the world’s biggest beauty pageant for transsexual women. In China he learns about the gay men who marry lesbians in sham-weddings to please overbearing parents and the unhappy straight women who unwittingly marry gay men. He encounters the comedic-feminine stereotypes of gay men presented on television in Japan. He attends sessions aimed at curing homosexuality, run by religious groups in Malaysia. And among the devastating poverty of Myanmar, he meets the men who are 42 times more likely to contract HIV than anywhere else. Law also attends a queer pride march in India where colonial anti-homosexuality laws were recently overturned. Gaysia is like a Louis Theroux documentary in book form, achieving a similar style of gonzo journalism to Theroux, with the hilarious Law becoming part of the story and experiencing the culture firsthand. Of course, this book will challenge those who find homosexuality confronting, but an unrestrained Law flushes out fragile readers early on with imagery from the poolside of a clothing-optional gay resort in Bali.

Andrew Wrathall is the publishing assistant for Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the June/July issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

INTERVIEW: Steve Grimwade, director/CEO of the Melbourne Writers Festival

This will be Steve Grimwade’s final year as director of the Melbourne Writers Festival (23 August to 2 September), with Lisa Dempster recently announced as his successor. Grimwade spoke to Andrew Wrathall.

Can you explain this year’s festival theme ‘Enquire Within’? 
The theme is, centrally, a call to action. The most obvious reading of the theme is that a writers festival gives us the prime opportunity to investigate the ways in which writers make us think and feel. The theme also speaks to the very heart of the festival experience—to seek to go further into the writers mind. Finally, to ‘enquire within’ is an invitation to a great gathering—and to our hub at Fed Square. It’s a call to bring together people who are passionate about ideas, curious about our lives and the society we live in.

What do you anticipate will be the highlights of this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival?
This is an unusually hard question, given that highlights are to be found where individual fancy lies. I can imagine that looking over Roz Chast’s shoulders, as she draws live in the Atrium, will send quite a few people aquiver. But fans of This American Life may rather enjoy the festival’s home-grown equivalent—The Radio Hour—sixty minutes of A-grade documentary radio created right in front of your eyes (with writers, musicians and technical sorts all on stage making it happen). Many in my own staff team are longing to meet the delightful Pico Iyer, a man whose being and writing chime with lyrical beauty. Highlights are where you find them, and they’re just as often on a small stage as they are a large one.

What sessions or which authors do you think will attract the biggest crowds?
An easy question! Our audiences have been unreservedly drawn to the gregarious, thoughtful and delightful Simon Callow, and they have equally, unanimously, joyously been electrified by our New Yorker writers. (Those New Yorker events that are yet to sell out are just seats away from that very eventuality.)

What about your personal picks? Which authors are you most looking forward to hearing talk about their work?
Each and every one of them. But I suspect that a more direct answer may be: John Lanchester, a writer whose suite of talents astounds me; Gillian Mears, who speaks so graciously about her work (and who is a charmed writer); and Martha Nussbaum, a major philosopher whose energy is breathtaking.

To speak of a few specific events, I’m hoping I can somehow swing across to Liner Notes as they celebrate David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust; I love the line-up for our You Animals panel (Tim Flannery, Sonya Hartnett, Anna Krien and Charlotte Wood); and I reckon we’ve got the best line-up for ABC TV’s Q&A in quite some time—Simon Callow, Joumana Haddad, Anthony Appiah, Sefi Atta and Germaine Greer. No polly waffle!

How has the festival changed over the past five years and how do you see it evolving after you leave?
My desire has been to open the festival to more readers and more writers, and to honour the ways in which writing connects us all. By continuing to broaden our focus—by not limiting ourselves to one view of ‘good writing’—we’ve drawn readers from a much broader range of backgrounds. (Some 30% of our audience are between 18-35 years of age, and I think that makes for a particularly vibrant festival.)

Significantly the festival has had to deal with two major changes over the past five years—the first, our move to Fed Square, which has been a wonderful blessing on most levels. The second is the introduction of the amazing Wheeler Centre into Melbourne’s cultural landscape. This has been tricky for most literary organisations and event organisers—and we’re only now beginning to gauge the effect of its price point and programming. I’d hope that governments in the near future understand that the festival delivers the most amazing bang for buck, and that increasing our funding levels to those received elsewhere—such as at the Sydney Writers Festival—will enable us to offer far more free events. By doing that I have no doubt that we’d then speak to a much greater audience.

How will the festival evolve?
Well, that’s a question best left to my successor, the fabulous Lisa Dempster. But the largest gap I rue not filling is having the finances to establishing a greater physical presence at Fed Square.

Will the festival be using digital programming to reach audiences online?
We have, for years, been at the forefront of discussing digital publishing’s effect on audiences—and we’ve run public conferences on Digital Publishing and the future of journalism. We continue to run the latter—the New News conference—which is even more of a highlight of this year’s program (and very necessarily so).

We have also, for years, engaged a variety of the city’s favourite literary bloggers to engage with our own guests and to report from our events. This year I believe we have over eight bloggers reporting from events and we’ll be showing a live Twitter stream at our New News events. In addition to this we’re live streaming a small number of schools events and we also record all our events, offering an array of pod and vodcasts after the physical festival is over.

BOOK REVIEW: Alien Shores (ed by Sharon Rundle & Meenakshi Bharat, Brass Monkey Books)

Alien Shores is a heartbreaking glimpse into the lives of displaced people who have fled their homes, lost family and friends, and struggled to survive. Long after their ordeal, the scars remain. This collection of literary short stories explores the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers within Australia and the Indian subcontinent. The collection begins with some shocking tales and ends on a heartwarming note. Indian author Amitav Ghosh writes about the 1979 massacre of refugees in Morichjhapi in his short story on the discovery of a late husband’s journal, which expands on the narrative of his powerful 2005 novel The Hungry Tide (HarperPerennial). Arnold Zable writes about the people displaced by burning villages during the Vietnam War and the disturbed US soldiers contemplating desertion. Jamil Ahmad tells of a woman seeking refuge in a military watchtower near a border crossing after she loses her tribe. Abdul Karim Hekut illustrates the cruelty of the bureaucrat. Sharon Rundle turns Australians into refugees in her speculative fiction tale. And Ali Alizadeh turns the Australian refugee activist story on its head. This book reminds us that we are all members of the human family and those who are born elsewhere or with different ideas on life should be treated with as much respect as any of our closer neighbours.

Andrew Wrathall is publishing assistant at Bookseller+Publisher. Alien Shores will be launched by Julian Burnside at Readings Carlton at 6:30pm, 21 May.

INTERVIEW: Deb Cox on ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is the television adaptation of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books (A&U), currently screening each Friday night on ABC. Andrew Wrathall spoke to head writer Deb Cox.

What attracted you to this project?
My producing partner, Fiona Eagger, and I were looking to do an adaptation of an Australian crime novel. We’d never attempted adaptation before and we were fairly sure the ABC was looking for a prime-time crime series. When we began reading what was around, though, we were disappointed. It takes so long to raise the finance and script and produce a television series, so you need to feel it’s worthwhile—both financially and philosophically. It was hard to find a reason to bring stories about psychotic killers and serial murderers to the screen. So when we alighted on the Phryne Fisher murder mystery series—and discovered stories led by an entertaining but wonderfully subversive, feminist character, laced through with our own history and tackling social issues with a balance of grit and humour—we knew we could turn it into something we could be proud of which would fit stylistically with our mode of storytelling and reflect moral values we shared.

Do you find adapting a book easier than writing an original screenplay, or does it limit your creativity?
We set out thinking it would be easier, but it’s definitely not! It takes a whole new set of skills to preserve what’s most important in the stories, rationalise the impossible, gather what’s left into a cohesive whole and still reflect the boundless worlds of imagination encouraged in the readers’ minds by a few hundred words on paper—in a way that’s achievable in production terms! You’re being tested to the limits of your creativity and inventiveness with a whole lot of restrictions and parameters in every direction.

Was Kerry Greenwood involved in the screenwriting process?
Yes, Kerry came to our first brainstorming for the series and answered hundreds of questions we had, as well as providing important historical background we could plunder. She also read the scripts at various stages of drafting and would make corrections—mainly to language. For someone who hasn’t written for the screen before, she had a remarkable appreciation for the kinds of changes we needed to make to each novel. I put it down to the lawyer in her—there’s a very practical, logical side to her brain as well as her wild imagination.

What did you enjoy most about recreating 1920s Melbourne?
Early in the process it was the historical research and then, in pre-production, it was the location surveys into the hidden treasures of the National Trust. There are such beautiful buildings preserved in the city of Melbourne—not all of them open to the public. It was a privilege to showcase them to a wider audience. Watching the studio sets take shape was wonderful—I still enjoy in the ‘pretend’ of it all—like watching the best-ever cubby house appear like magic. The costumes were the same—glorious dress-ups! And the music was so evocative of the time, but our composer put his own contemporary spin on it. With all the departments, from scripting to sound, it’s so much more delightful, and educational, being transported to another time. It will be very hard returning to a modern drama after Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Did you have to overcome many hurdles in the adaptation process? Any budget constraints?
Yes, of course. We couldn’t set a novel on an ocean liner because we didn’t have a 1928 ocean liner available and recreating one would have cost millions. We couldn’t shoot some episodes where we had to travel far from Melbourne, or shift the crew endlessly around the city, because moving that many people costs so much money and we would have blown our budget. We achieved the series for little more than your average non-period Australian drama series—and when you consider that Australian budgets are generally very low compared to the UK and certainly compared to US television, I think it’s impressive what we ended up with. Our crews are respected internationally because they’re inventive and resourceful and with our series that goes double.