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Saturday 23 May 2020

Run on Empty or Adapt: Part 2 Authors and Illustrators

Paul Collins continues his insightful discussions on the book industry during the COVID 19 pandemic to explore the issues and challenges facing authors and illustrators. This perspective compliments the contributions of a number of local authors and illustrators throughout this challenging year.

As for authors and illustrators . . . it might seem obvious that they will be getting a lot of work done in 2020 in time for a bumper 2021/2022. However, as one illustrator told me recently, she’s been struggling to meet her deadline as she currently has seven family members confined to the house. That would certainly take some getting used to. Without schools and libraries, many creatives are in financial trouble – in fact, actors, musicians – most people across the arts sector, have suddenly lost their income. Unless they can find other work, I wonder how many are going to survive. Although I did see in the paper that an airline pilot has scored a job as a delivery driver – anything is possible where there’s a will. And Alec Baldwin is to star in Orphans, a world-first livestream play

Speaking of which, Dannika Patterson, author of Scribbly Gum Secrets (illustrated by Megan Forward), had planned a massive launch for the book. (Over 300 people attended her launch of Jacaranda Magic.) The second launch was all set to go when Covid-19 arrived. So she adapted and livestreamed her event. I hadn’t expected it to attract as much attention as it did. Here are her findings after the launch.
  • The 'Live' video organically reached 2.4K viewers.
  • Of these, 980 clicked in to watch the Online Storytime (about 350 devices tuned in live and the balance watched on replay).
  • Dannika had a lot of friends/followers tell her they missed it on the night but tuned in withe their kids over breakfast the next morning.
  • There were 641 engagements with the launch video (which means that people either hit 'like' or some other reaction, or made a comment.
  • Dannika's author page gained an extra 51 likes/follower leading up to during the event.
  • Engagement and replays are still listing. People in the USA and Europe tuned in to watch the replat for days after the online event. 

Michael Hyde (remember the fabulous Footy Dreaming) and Gabrielle Gloury created a trailer on a mobile phone. Their book, Girls Change the Game, is a choose-your-own adventure. It would have gone gangbusters with the AFLW season in mid swing. Regardless, their trailer on Facebook was shared 37 times and the online sales have been quite good. It prompted me to revise Ford Street’s YouTube channel which I’d not touched for years:
Michael Hyde digitally launches Girls Change the Game.

A number of authors have taken up video recording as they read their works aloud and then post online. There has been a great uptake of sites to deliver these. Reading@Home (QLD Department of Education) is one of many examples. Tune in to view
Michelle Worthington reading Glitch followed by Dimity Powell reading Pippa
It is great to see our authors getting the attention they deserve and taking advantage of the technology to share their creations with young readers.
Michelle Worthington and Dimity Powell feature on Reading@Home

Obviously, some creatives are very good at adapting. Those who aren’t might lose ground. And let’s face it, not everyone is tech-savvy.

But aside from the creatives and the booksellers, major publishers are doing it hard, too. Redundancies are rampant. Lonely Planet has all but shut its doors in England and Australia. Hardie Grant and Scribe were among the first Australian publishers to announce redundancies while other publishers such as Allen & Unwin and Thames and Hudson are cutting back the hours staff are working to reduce costs.

I’ve also heard on the grapevine that some major publishers are moving away from publishing local talent. It makes sense from a pure units-profit sense. If they purchase ANZ rights to a book with an overseas track record they skip the design/editing/author/illustrator cost. They still have the book, and at a hugely reduced price. I predict that many creatives whose sales once made them A-listers will gradually be seeking publication with the smaller presses. If librarians or the public want to support local product, they won’t be wholly searching the major publishers’ catalogues for it. 

While I write this I have notified my distributor, NewSouth, that four titles I had planned for May through to August will now be September and October books. Those micro presses which are still around in 2021 will have a bumper year, albeit one with more competition due to many books being postponed from 2020.

To end on an upbeat note, according to Nielsen BookScan (the industry’s sales monitor), trade publishers’ revenue is actually up 15% compared to the same time last year, with book sales up 36% compared to the same period.

I imagine the online sales have contributed to this result as people in lockdown are looking for ways to beat boredom. Perhaps it’s no wonder that puzzles have seen a surge in sales.

Paul Collins
T: @fordstreet
FB: Paul Collins

Editor's note: Some of you may have followed the fairly recent announcement of the 2020 Indie award winners and shortlist that demonstrates the importance of independent publishers in the children's book trade. A number of Tasmanian authors have also been active in sharing their works online and these have been promoted on the CBCA Tasmania FaceBook page. For creators reading this post, if you have a live reading or site to share, please add as a comment to this post.

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