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Issue Details: First known date: 2020... no. 66 May 2020 of Australian Humanities Review est. 1996 Australian Humanities Review
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

'The production, reception and consumption of books are shaped by complex systems of policy, conventions and traditions. These range from formally consecrated legislation and official industry and organisational codes of conduct, through to those conventions that govern literary merit, genres, questions of ‘taste’, and the value placed on the book as a cultural object. This special section of the Australian Humanities Review explores the ways—both tacit and explicit—in which book culture is regulated, with a particular focus on contemporary Australian book publishing. The essays engage with the laws of book culture, identifying these formal and informal rules, and exploring how they influence the workings of the field.' (Millicent Weber and Alexandra Dane : Introduction)


  • Contents indexed selectively.


* Contents derived from the 2020 version. Please note that other versions/publications may contain different contents. See the Publication Details.
The Conventions and Regulation of Book Culture, Millicent Weber , Alexandra Dane , single work criticism
'Government policy has long shaped the production, circulation and consumption of literary texts in Australia. Copyright legislation, importation regulations and the public funding of authors, events and prizes are integral parts of the fabric of Australian publishing, influencing author careers, book production, bookselling and national literary tastes. In his articulation of contemporary cultural policy, David Throsby (Economics 26; ‘Commerce’) observes the ways in which government support for arts and culture, through public funding and legislative regulation, is motivated by a desire for growth within the cultural sectors. The publishing industry, structured as it is by both cultural and commercial imperatives, shares common goals with cultural policy, leading to the development of a mutually beneficial and often commercially generative relationship between the two. The production of books in Australia exists within a policy framework that, often through regulatory mechanisms, is economically supportive. The result of this framework has profound radiating effects (Australian Society of Authors; Donoughue; Glover; Shapcott). Authors, who are supported financially to produce literary texts; literary events, that celebrate authors and the public life of literature; publications and small publishers, that curate and disseminate literary works; and structures of bookselling in Australia: each of these individuals and institutions operates explicitly within a system of policy decisions.' (Paragraph two)
Monstering the Midlist : Implications for Author Income and Publishing Sustainability, Brigid Magner , Tracy O'Shaughnessy , single work criticism

'In this article, we use Nielsen BookScan data, in particular, the Top 2000 Australian-only titles from 2005-2018, spanning the five years before the collapse of the REDGroup in Australia and the five years afterwards, to examine the sustainability of the midlist in Australia. Midlist titles are often said to be an indispensable part of the publisher’s list, yet the role of the midlist author seems to be increasingly difficult to inhabit from both a creative and a financial point of view. Through the analysis of sales data which shows a rise in the volume of bestsellers, we argue that the ‘thinning out’ of the midlist is leading to lessening returns for Australian authors in this bracket. The steady decline in the profitability of midlist titles indicates that many authorial careers may be becoming increasingly untenable. The following discussion considers the implications for the health of the publishing ecosystem and canvasses alternative strategies for helping Australian authors and publishers to survive.' (Publication abstract)

Short Story Collections, Cultural Value, and the Australian Market for Books, Emmett Stinson , single work criticism

'This article employs a bibliometric dataset comprising forty years of Australian sole-authored short story collections to examine the degree to which non-economic values, such as cultural value and symbolic value, regulate cultural production in Australian book publishing. While short story collections may be an unexpected and oblique measure, the variable status of the sole-authored short story collection makes it a useful barometer for examining publishers’ investments in cultural forms of value, as opposed to commercial ones. This data suggests two findings that diverge from accounts of recent Australian literary production: (1) that the flowering of Australian short fiction in book-length form occurred slightly later than commonly noted (in the mid-1980s rather than the 1970s), and (2) that there has been a significant contemporary increase in the publishing of largely non-commercial short story collections since 2012. This second finding potentially problematises narratives of literary decline in Australian publishing. In particular, the re-emergence of the short story collection suggests that debates about the disaggregation of the literary field may be overstated, since this data potentially suggests a repolarisation of the field. Rather than reinscribing hierarchies of literary value, however, this repolarisation may simply reflect trends within readerly demographics that consume different kinds of texts.' (Publication abstract)

An Intricate Web : Unweaving Strands of Convention in Children’s Fantasy Series by Australians, Caylee Tierney , single work criticism

'Writing in 2012, Edward James comments that ‘one of the most unexpected developments of the last decade has been the domination of the popular fantasy genre by Australian women (and some Australian men)’ (76; see Wilkins 265). This trend has continued in the years since, with authors such as Emily Rodda, Kate Forsyth, Isobelle Carmody, Jessica Townsend, Garth Nix, John Flanagan, Michael Pryor and Jay Kristoff finding success in Australia and internationally. There is, however, very little distinctively ‘Australian’ about fantasy series by these writers, which largely conform to conventions of the genre that prevail internationally. Unlike Australian literary fiction, which values ‘complex’, original books that celebrate distinctive Australian features (Wilkins 267-9), genres such as fantasy value familiarity and commercial viability (Gelder 13-17, 26-7, 41). James argues that many Australian writers ‘have only been a success because they have been able to market their books to publishers in the UK and USA’ (76). Often, the global outlook of Australian genre fiction writers means publishers do not emphasise the Australian identity of these writers, and their books do not include extrinsically Australian features. In the highly commercial genre fiction industry, failure to adhere to the strict, if evolving, conventions that govern book production in a narrative and professional sense can mean that a writer does not get published, or at the least, does not achieve success in the global market.' (Introduction)

Five Processes in the Platformisation of Cultural Production : Amazon and Its Publishing Ecosystem, Mark Davis , single work criticism

'In a recent essay the literary scholar Mark McGurl asked,

Should now be considered the driving force of American literary history? Is it occasioning a convergence of the state of the art of fiction writing with the state of the art of capitalism? If so, what does this say about the form and function of narrative fiction—about its role in symbolically managing, resisting, or perhaps simply ‘escaping’ the dominant sociopolitical and economic realities of our time? (447)

'McGurl’s essay, with its focus on the sheer scope of Amazon’s operations and their impact on literary institutions, from their online bookstore, to their ebooks division, to their Audible audiobooks division, to their Goodreads reader reviews community, provides a salutary insight into current conditions of cultural production. The fate of literary culture, as McGurl says, now rests in the hands of digital technology, with its close connections to the neoliberal commodification of work, leisure and culture. But McGurl’s essay if anything underestimates the extent to which the fate of western cultural production is increasingly tied to digital media corporations. Focused on Amazon’s impact on the literary field, it opens up possibilities for understanding the processes of platformisation that underpin the cultural activities of companies such as Amazon.' (Introduction)

Fair’s Fair (Except When It Isn’t) : The Effectiveness of Fair Dealing in the Australian Publishing Industry, Katherine Day , single work criticism

'In November 2016, the Australian Productivity Commission (PC) released a report proposing a ‘fair use exception to replace the current system of fair dealing exceptions’ (ACC 1) in the Australian Copyright Act 1968. The Commission’s recommendation supported the Australian Legal Reform Commission’s (ALRC) findings in its 2013 report ‘Copyright and the Digital Economy’, which stated that a flexible fair use provision would ‘“enable the Act to adapt to changing technologies and uses without the need for legislative intervention”’ (ALRC 95). In the event that a fair use exception is not viable, the ALRC also proposed an alternative ‘new fair dealing’ exception, to broaden the doctrine’s purposes for educational institutions and commercial organisations.' (Introduction)

Eligibility, Access and the Laws of Literary Prizes, Alexandra Dane , single work criticism

'The ability of literary prizes to sway literary tastes and shape cultural discourse has long been explored through the decisions made by the prize judging panel. The jury of experts, who bring with them symbolic capital and are often regarded as representing a nation’s sophisticated literary palate, have been the subject of extensive scholarship. However, there is a selection process that occurs prior to the commencement of the official or public adjudication. The entry guidelines for individual literary prizes ensure that particular authors and titles will not, or cannot, be considered for the prize and are, therefore, excluded from the symbolic and economic rewards that come with being shortlisted for and winning a literary prize. How do literary prize eligibility requirements limit access to the prestige and promotion that comes with a literary prize? How does the issue of exclusivity influence the ways prizes run, the winners that are chosen and, ultimately, the field-wide conceptions of prize-winning writing?' (Introduction)

Review : Indigenous Transnationalism: Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria, Benjamin Nickl , single work review
— Review of Indigenous Transnationalism : Essays on Carpentaria 2017 anthology criticism ;

'It must have been difficult to collect academic essays on a novel received with such a wide range of reactions as Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria. This applies to many books, but Wright’s case is remarkable. It took a while for Australians and the global readership to warm up to a 500-plus-page story about the uneasy relations between Indigenous and white culture in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Queensland. With sales and reprints pointing to the literary exceptionalism of Wright’s second novel, one may be surprised that Australia’s major publishing houses rejected the book; only for the small literary house of Giramondo to publish a milestone of Australian Literature in 2006. In their own ways, the invited contributions to Indigenous Transnationalism explain why that is.' (Introduction)

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Last amended 2 Jun 2020 08:37:41