Dymocks – ‘Supporting Australian Authors’ (not)

I’ve just had a good laugh this morning, on reading the annual Dymocks Book franchise Father’s Day catalogue.

Books by a number of authors in this year’s catalogue appear with a little green & gold book symbol with the words ‘Supporting Australian Authors’. Well I’ve sold thousands of books, and as at today’s count the total sold through Dymocks bookshops is…..wait for it….. the vast total of….22 books. Yes that’s right, not even one and a half boxes; through just 2 stores that contacted me, and went through with an actual order, in response to customer requests. Why so few sales through Dymocks bookshops? Dymocks have a policy of not buying books produced by self-published authors. They say their administration can’t cope with too many suppliers, all books need to go through distributors (kiss goodbye to another large chunk of the sale proceeds), and there is also a presumption that self-published books will not be as popular as books produced by the big publishing houses. I’ve had many people buy from me who initially asked Dymocks to get my book in for them, to no avail (and for every person who asks, there’d be many who looked for it but didn’t ask staff about availability).

Well my new policy is to not sell through bookshops. It’s simply not profitable. They take too large a chunk of the retail price, and bookshop franchises (Angus & Robertson and Dymocks) demand suppliers pay for freight, they demand sale-or-return conditions, take many months to pay invoices (in the case of Angus & Robertson, often reordering several times in the meantime, because the books keep selling out) and just to add insult to injury, inflate the retail price if they think they can extract more cash out of the customers! (But of course none of this extra profit is passed back to the creator of the book.) Authors take all the risk and do all the work, yet bookshops want all the profit – and absolutely no risk. I am looking forward to increasing numbers of phonecalls from Dymocks bookshops when the next book is published, and will take immense delight in telling them that they are not available for wholesale purchase. (And they wonder why customers are increasingly buying online, and direct from authors, rather than via their bookshops!)

If anyone really is under the illusion that Dymocks really are interested in supporting Australian authors, then they need to read Dymock’s CEO Don Grover’s comments on the parallel importation of books, on The Punch website. Then read the excellent points made by the general public, refuting the claims made in his blatantly nest-feathering speech. It is laughable for him to bang on about ditching parallel importation because it would be good for the public. Dymocks aren’t running a charity. There’s only one reason why they’d want parallel importation rules changed – and that is of course because they believe there’d be more dollars in it for them. Don Grover bemoans sales lost to internet businesses. Well Don if you ran a good show – a genuinely varied and large range of excellent quality books, at reasonable prices, provided with efficient and friendly service – you wouldn’t lose any sales. 99% of people would much rather check out a book in person, in a bookshop, prior to buying. They only go elsewhere for good reasons. Just recently I bought several specialist books from the U.S., on South American countries, that are not available in bookshops here. Not only were these books expensive, but every single one arrived badly damaged. That wouldn’t have mattered so much, but only one of the books was actually good quality – the rest were overpriced absolute turkeys – like the worst kind of Australian coffee-table books produced by big publishing companies (passable photographs but not nearly enough of them, woefully inadequate captions [i.e. not detailed or informative], and pages and pages of generic waffle). I’d never have bought three of these books if I could have checked them out in person first, in a bookshop; something I certainly would have done had it been possible. I’ve also bought first rate quality self-published books direct from Australian authors, via the internet, because these books were not available in book franchise stores.

Dymocks is part of the ‘Coalition for Cheaper Books’, along with ‘discount stores’ Woolworth, K-Mart, Coles and Big W. Just how dumb do these 5 massive Australian companies think the general public is?! There is only one reason why these big 5 set up the ‘Coalition for Cheaper Books’, and that is to make a bigger profit themselves. They absolutely could not give rat’s toss about Australian authors, Australian culture, or about ensuring that the Australian public has access to the biggest range of the best quality books available. Or even whether or not the general public can buy books at a lower price. They are only interested in making more money for themselves and the companies they are employed by. The ‘Coalition for Cheaper Books’ would be more honestly named ‘Coalition for Fatter Bookseller Profits’. One of the quotes on this utterly silly website is ‘cheaper books to improve child literacy’. School libraries and community libraries are full of books free to borrow, and the bargain bins of bookshops contain plenty of cheap books. And there are truckloads of cheap second hand books available. Children’s reading ability can also be boosted by learning to read tv guides (to see when their favourite shows are on), sporting and entertainment sections of newspapers, speciality magazines on topics that particularly interest them, looking up friend’s details up in phonebooks, reading instruction manuals (lego building, etc), computer websites, maps, street signs and menus (they’re highly motivated to practice their reading skills when there’s something they really want to know!). This is how our kids practice their reading. We do have numerous bookcases stuffed full of books; but in reality a smaller number of fabulous quality childrens books, combined with school and library resources and utilisation of everyday reading (as mentioned above), is what is best for promoting children’s literacy. (Our kids have favourites they return to over and over, and others that have barely been read – because they just aren’t engaging stories.) Cheaper books will absolutely NOT make one iota of difference to Australian literacy standards. There’s plenty of people who just won’t buy books, regardless of the price, just as there are those who will continue to buy books, regardless of the price. There’s a raft of other stupidly self-interested but poorly thought out comments quoted on this website. I’m reminded of a book retailer in town who told me once that the area their shop is situated in is known for tight customers, and she gave me what she said was a typical recent example. An older woman came in and asked if there were any cheap childrens books available. She was directed to the $2 bargain bin, full of all sorts of kids books. The women said ‘oh I was looking for something cheaper than that’. (!) The bottom line is, authors only get a tiny percentage of the proceeds of book sales, and the average income of Australian authors is an abysmal $11,000 per annum. Whereas the average income of Australian publishing industry employees is more than $50,000 per annum. Hmmm guess which group is getting fat at the expense of another profession! Have the people who made the comments about wanting cheaper books because ‘they are too expensive’ given any thought to the fact that if authors earn any less than they already do, then the quality of publications available to purchase will inevitably reduce? In fact eventually there’d be no authors at all? Perhaps they should consider reducing their own wages too, because the end product (good or service) that they are involved in working to provide, is also too expensive? The ‘Coalition for Cheaper Books’ should also have asked the public other vital questions, such as ‘do you want your child to have access to fabulous childrens books illustrated and written by Australian authors, or just remaindered poor-quality American rubbish, with American images, American spellings and words, and on American topics?’

If you want to ensure that as wide a variety of Australian books is available as possible, then whenever you buy books, buy from independent retailers (or even direct from the authors), not franchises. While it may seem like bookshop franchises have a lot of books to choose from, closer inspection usually reveals that they have a smaller range, but larger numbers of each item – thus creating the convincing illusion of vast choice (akin to Officeworks stationery shops), when in actual fact the range on offer is relatively small. Bear in mind too that Angus & Robertson, the once-great Australian publishing institution, is no longer Australian-owned.

Over the last 3 years customers have contacted me who said they were told by bookshop franchise staff (in both Angus & Robertson and Dymocks shops) that the book A Million Acre Masterpiece was ‘not available’, ‘no longer available’, ‘sold out’ or ‘we can’t contact the publisher’. So don’t believe everything you are told by book franchise staff, either. Many do a great job under trying circumstances, but others are happy to do as little as possible and tell porkies to avoid spending a little extra time providing good service. And, obviously, when Dymocks prints a catalogue with little symbols saying ‘Supporting Australian Authors’, in an effort to foster a good corporate image, don’t believe that either! It is exactly the opposite. I’ll believe Dymocks – and Angus & Robertson – are interested in helping Australian authors when self-published Australian authors are able to pay to get their books listed in book franchise catalogues (Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day), as the big book publishing companies do.