About Tim Coronel

Tim Coronel is the former publisher at Thorpe-Bowker, and a past editor of Bookseller+Publisher magazine and the Weekly Book Newsletter. He has been working in the Australian book industry since 1989 -- as a bookseller, an editor, a journalist and a publisher. He left Thorpe-Bowker at the end of 2011 to pursue other dreams. Tim can be found on Twitter (all the time!) at @Tim_Coronel and also on Facebook. See a Fancy Goods tribute to Tim here.

Fancy Goods Questionnaire: Tim Coronel

Bookseller+Publisher magazine publisher Tim Coronel has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Australian book industry, a 1969 Daimler and a thing for watches (no, really). He also has a lot of books. He kindly agreed to tell us about some of them:

What are you reading right now?

I always read multiple books at once: the challenge is finishing them! Right now, depending on the time and place, you might find me dipping into Reality Hunger by David Shields, The Radzestky March by Joseph Roth, Cooper Cars by Doug Nye, The Ask by Sam Lipsyte …

What book do you always recommend?

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. If you haven’t read it, you should. I’m not going to say anything more than that.

What book are you most looking forward to?

I haven’t yet had a chance to read the new David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet; and I might have to read Justin Cronin’s The Passage to see if it lives up to all the hype.

What book made you wonder what all the fuss was about?

I’m not going the revisit the one a few years back that I gave a really scathing two-star review to and it went on to win the Miles Franklin … I admit I never got very far with Life of Pi; and I seem to be the only person in the world who really (really!) disliked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

What’s the best book you’ve read that no-one’s ever heard of?

Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century by Greil Marcus. After finding it literally by accident (I plucked it out of the returns pile at the suburban Canberra bookshop I was working at in 1989), it was truly mind-expanding and life-changing for me. It’s a book that’s ostensibly about music, and particularly about how punk draws on a number of earlier avant-garde movements, but it’s also the book that introduced me to Guy Debord and the Situationists, and which really shaped the way I think about culture, politics, art, music and all that stuff.

Obligatory desert island question—which book would you want with you?

If it was the only book available, maybe I’d finally get around to finishing all the snippets of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. For some strange reason, my ‘comfort book’ has been The Andy Warhol Diaries, I couldn’t count how many times I’ve pulled it off the shelf and re-read parts of it over the past 20 years.

Is there a book you’ve bought for the cover?

Loads! Most recently, Wristwatches: History Of A Century’s Development by Helmut Kahlert et al (Schiffer). I saw an old copy in the window of a second-hand bookshop and almost bought it for an extortionate price, but then found out a revised and updated edition was still in print and bought that (for a slightly less extortionate price).

Hardback, paperback or digital?

e) all of the above. It’s the words that are important, not the container they’re in. Although having said that, I’m finding I’m reading quite a lot on my iPhone.

If I were a literary character I’d be…

Hmmm, that’s a tough one, can I be an amalgam of many characters? A bit Charles Ryder (from Brideshead Revisited), a bit Bernardo Soares (from Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet), a bit Troppmann (from Bataille’s Blue of Noon), a bit Tom Ripley (from Patricia Highsmith’s novels), a bit Bernie Gunther (from Philip Kerr’s Berlin novels), with some Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s alter-ego in On the Road) and James Bond fantasies thrown in for good measure …

The best thing about books is…

They help you avoid eye-contact with strangers on public transport.

And …

I’m an absolute Twit. There, I’ve said it. I’m referring, of course, to the social networking phenomenon of Twitter, where (it could be argued) I’m spending way too much of my time. But it is a fascinating—and, I would argue, extremely useful and valuable—‘virtual agora’, where ideas and opinions are flying around in all directions, all the time (one of the reasons it’s so addictive).

I’m involved in a lot of threads on Twitter about ‘the future of the book’, and clearly a lot of the discourse revolves around digital publishing, ebooks, ereaders, etc. But I’m keenly aware that ‘the future of the book’ discussion is pulling in a few contradictory directions, and I’m increasingly concerned that far too much of the ‘noise’ is about an ‘inevitable’ shift to digital, about disruption and new ways of doing things;  and far too little is about print, and bricks-and-mortar stores, and the degree to which many things will stay the same … and that new and old will live alongside each other.

I’m increasingly placing myself in a position where I’m encouraging digital pundits (themselves online seemingly 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, iPhones gripped in cramped fingers from dawn till midnight …) to think of ‘and’ scenarios:

  • There will be ebooks and print books, alongside each other, for a long time to come
  • There will be small, dynamic publishers and big, slow ones
  • There will be more content with a global aspect and more things that are small and local
  • Large players will dominate and small players will have more access than ever to the mainstream
  • Authors will publish directly to readers, bypassing traditional gatekeepers and authors will want and need agents, editors, publishers and booksellers in order to reach their audience
  • Audiences will engage directly with authors and readers will seek the expertise and authority of gatekeepers (reviews, retailers, publishers)
  • Events will be small and innovative (Emerging Writers Festival) and large and traditional (Sydney or Melbourne Writers Festival)
  • Territorial copyright and separate editions will be old hat and will continue to be important.

Confused yet? I sure am! Enthused and energised by the changes, challenges and opportunities? I sure am.

But what do you think?

Kobo launch: forget about the device, look at the titles

[a version of this article first appeared in Crikey on Friday 21 May as a subscriber-only story. Many thanks to Crikey and its editor Sophie Black for permission to reproduce it here on Fancy Goods—TC]

As the REDgroup rolls out its Kobo ebooks platform, let’s forget about the device for a moment and look instead at the title offer. Mainstream media stories seemed to be all about the Kobo ereader, but this launch represents a notable step in the development of a local ebook market not because of the gizmo but because it’s the first time an ebook retailer has been able to offer a significant range of Australian ebooks to sell, across a range of reading devices. (Dymocks, of course, was a pioneer in launching its ebook offer in 2007, but Dymocks arguably went too early and have been held back thus far by a lack of local content …)

The Kobo reader itself is cheap—at $199 it’s pretty much the cheapest dedicated ereader on the market, and it is pretty basic. But that’s not really the point: ereading is quickly moving away from proprietary devices and multiple formats toward files in a standard format (ePub) that can be read on a range of devices. One of Kobo’s stated advantages is that it is cross-platform: Kobo promises that its ePub titles—while still being restricted/protected by Digital Rights Management to prevent copying/sharing—will be able to be read on a range of devices from smartphones to tablets to laptops to desktop PCs. And if you have ePub or PDF files from other sources, they should be readable on the Kobo reader or in the Kobo apps.  (Frustratingly, if you have already bought yourself a Kindle from Amazon &/or you have Kindle ebook files downloaded on your computer or iPhone, you probably won’t be able to easily read those on the Kobo reader … Amazon supplies its ebooks in a proprietary format that ties them to either the Kindle reader device or Kindle app.)

But what about the list of titles on offer? Kobo seems to have energised and engaged with Australian publishers in a way that the overseas players (Kindle, Apple, etc) haven’t so far. Australian readers will now be able to go to one place to buy ebook versions of books published by up to 100 local publishers, ranging from the local offerings of the multinationals: HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Pan Macmillan and Hachette, for example; to books from Allen & Unwin (which has offered many of its titles as ebooks for a number of years), MUP, UQP, Scribe, Text and many others from Australia’s diverse independent publishers. ‘The offer is about us trying to offer as many Australian titles on this open platform as we can,’ REDgroup’s communications manager Malcolm Neil said. Here are some authors whose titles you can buy now on Kobo you can’t (yet) get on Kindle: Kate Grenville, Shane Maloney, Peter Temple, Malcolm Knox, Thomas Kenneally … Continue reading

Small(er) publishers to the fore: a surprise Australian Publishers Association election result

Annual general meetings are usually pretty dreary affairs: financial reports are read out, there is lots of proposing and seconding on the previous year’s minutes and the like, and then new office-bearers are announced. AGMs of the Australian Publishers Association (APA) usually follow much the same pattern, but this year’s APA AGM, held last Thursday in Sydney, held some surprises.

The main surprise was that there was an election for the presidency of the APA, and that the likely favourite didn’t win. Running against the high-profile Penguin Australia CEO Gabrielle Coyne was the little-known Stephen May, a psychologist and the founder of Brisbane-based Australian Academic Press. May apparently sent a letter introducing himself to all APA members and did some concerted lobbying, particularly among the smaller publishers and the academic/scholarly members, and he gained a majority of the votes from the APA’s diverse membership of 230 companies to seal the result.

There was also a strong range of candidates for the eight positions on the APA’s Independent Publishers Committee, with elections to decide the convenor (Rex Finch of Finch Publishing was elected) and the committee members, who represent publishers such as UQP, UNSW Press, Magabala, Spinifex and the National Library of Australia.

For many years there has been grumbling among the smaller publishers that the APA was dominated by the all-powerful Trade Publishers Committee, which in turn was dominated by the multinational companies (Penguin, Random, HarperCollins, Hachette, etc). The last few years have seen the composition of the APA’s senior office-bearers become more diverse and to better represent the breadth of publishing activity undertaken in Australia (for a start, it’s not often acknowledged in public ‘bookish’ spheres that educational publishing, from primary through to tertiary, makes up at least half of the publishing business in Australia).

When the election for the presidency was announced a few weeks ago, APA CEO Maree McKaskill told the Weekly Book Newsletter that it was ‘the sign of a healthy organisation that is not dormant’. She added: ‘The campaign on parallel importation of books [last year] has certainly created a real bond between the publishers and re-invigorated the membership so that they value the organisation and as such the elections reflect that.’

The composition of the new board of the APA is certainly more diverse than ever, with representatives from Black Dog Books, LemonFizz Media and Cengage sitting alongside those from Allen & Unwin, Random House and Pearson. Stephen May is to be congratulated on his election as president. His challenge is to bring together the differing views and priorities of publishers from varying sectors and to be able to present a united stance when needed (for the government’s Book Industry Study Group, for example).

Literary lunching in Mildura

As we noted in the March issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine, writers festivals are a big deal not only in the big cities but also in regional centres. Mildura, in north-western Victoria, has been running its writers festival since 1994, and it keeps growing year-on-year.

The 2010 Mildura Writers Festival will run from 15-18 July, and last weekend I went up there for a well-attended preview lunch , hosted by long-time festival supporter restaurateur Stefano di Pieri at his Gallery 25 café (the full dinner experience at his world-renowned restaurant will have to wait until next time!).

The guest of honour for the lunch was Dr Jack Hibberd, best-known as the author of the seminal Australian play Dimboola. Over 40 years after its first performance at Melbourne’s La Mama in 1969, Dimboola is arguably Australia’s most-performed play, with 15-20 new productions every year, often in regional and remote communities. But as Stefano said in his introduction, the 70-year-old Hibberd is a ‘jack of all trades: trained as a doctor [he still works two days a week as an allergy specialist], Jack Hibberd is a playwright, poet, translator, wine writer …’ Hibberd was also on the Australia Council’s Literature Board until recently.

playwright, poet and doctor Jack Hibberd on his 70th birthday

After an excellent Stefano’s lunch featuring local produce and Stefano’s own wines, Hibberd spoke about his life and work and the enduring legacy of Dimboola, then read from some of his recent poems, before handing over to his wife, actor and comedian Evelyn Krape, to complete the reading.

Asked to comment on the current state of writing for theatre in Australia (especially considering that the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards this year decided that no play was worthy of shortlisting and instead directed the $30,000 prizemoney to developing new works), Hibberd was up-front: ‘I think it’s in a bit of a rut, there’s no philosophy and no history among the current crop of writers: it’s all either realism or farce, and neither done in ways that are particularly interesting, radical or thoughtful.’

A small and intimate festival

The line-up for the 2010 Mildura Writers Festival festival is impressive, with over a dozen guests including Don Watson, Kate Jennings, Les Murray and Peter Goldsworthy. ‘One of the key aspects of Mildura’s writers festival is that we keep it small and intimate,’ said director Helen Healy. Part of the deal for the writers is that they have to agree to stay for all four days – they can’t fly in, do their session and fly out again. ‘Everyone is here for four days and get to know each other so it’s not only readers listening to writers but readers and writers talking and writers talking and listening to each other.’

 See www.artsmildura.com.au for more details.

Why can’t Australians buy the ebooks they want?

In the past few months, the world seems to have gone ebook mad. First the Amazon Kindle was made available locally, now we await the Apple iPad, due at the end of May. Plenty of people are already reading on iPhones and other mobile screens, and there are quite a number of other readers available and an ever-expanding choice of online stores from which to buy ebooks. The reader devices vary in price and features, but for Australian users one complaint is common: I’ve paid for the gizmo, now why is it so hard to buy the ebooks I want to read on the damned thing?

The short, but far from simple, answer is that it’s due to territorial copyright, contractual arrangements between authors and publishers and the long-established ways of book publishing—and it’s nothing to do with Parallel Importation regulations (PIRs) in Australia’s Copyright Act (the restrictions that were such a hot topic of debate last year). That’s because PIRs only cover print books. Electronic files are only considered in the Copyright Act if they’re in physical form—i.e: burned onto CDs/DVDs. There is currently no provision in Australia’s Copyright Act that covers ebook files.

A common misconception is that it is Australian publishers that are restricting access to ebooks that are available to readers in other countries; but this isn’t really the case. On the whole it is US (and in some cases UK) publishers who are setting geographical restrictions on ebooks based on (a cautious reading of) their existing book contracts.

In the simplest (and for this example the best) case an author would sign a global contract with one publisher to sell their book in all markets and in any and all formats. In reality, for the vast majority of books, authors grant only certain rights to their publisher, and usually they choose a different publisher in each major territory. So a US publisher may well acquire print and electronic rights for a particular book for the US market only; meanwhile the author (via their literary agent) is shopping around for the best offer and will try their hardest to sell separate rights to publishers in the UK, to Canada, to Australia and translation rights to other countries, and they may or may not sell electronic rights along with print ones. At the moment, the US is leading the way when it comes to ebooks, so any geographic restrictions imposed on the US publisher in a book contract are coded into their ebook files at the time of their conversion and are a layer of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) that virtually all publishers insist on—and with which retailers have no choice but to comply.

Few ‘global’ books

Publishing is increasingly international, with about half a dozen dominant global players (Penguin, Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster), but there are very few global books. Even the most recognisable of international bestsellers will often be published by a different company in each territory (for example, Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy is published by Quercus in UK, and that edition is distributed via Murdoch Books in Australia, but Random House is Larsson’s publisher in the US). In a borderless online world, you can begin to see the problem: if an Australian customer downloads an ebook from Amazon.com in the US, which publisher receives the revenue? Continue reading

Digital dilemmas: think like a reader

This has been quite a week for the Australian publishing industry, with the Revolution in Digital Publishing seminars held in Melbourne on Monday and Sydney on Wednesday, and additional ‘digital chat’ sessions with special guests on the Tuesday and Thursday morning in each city. (You can read our Weekly Book Newsletter reports here and here and see what the Twitterverse was saying here.)

All the events have attracted hundreds of delegates—the Melbourne session that I attended filled the State Library’s auditorium to standing room (well, for the morning keynotes—Faber’s Stephen Page and Bloomsbury’s Richard Charkin, pictured—at least …)

These days were organized under the aegis of the Australian Publishers Association’s excellent professional training program, so it’s not surprising—and is right and proper—that the focus was on informing *publishers* about how digitisation is rapidly changing their world.

But considered from a wider book industry point of view, it was disappointing how little consideration was given to retailers, readers and authors, and how much of the talk was about reassuring publishers that digital was ‘same but different’—it’s just another format, it will operate within existing territorial copyright conditions, it won’t change rights sales, etc.

There was a real need for a contrary voice on the program, someone with radically different opinions on digital rights management (DRM); the future of copyright; and the rapidly changing relationships between creators, publishers, retailers and readers Continue reading