I've been sitting on this post for some time, unsure whether I should hit that publish button or not. If there's one thing I've learned about writing, it's that one should not put words together in anger. I don't have much of a temper, but I'm a natural born shit stirrer. When I realised our own government was prepared to sell its own writers out to keep the great and mighty supermarket duopoly happy (Sorry, Dymocks, despite all your huffing and puffing no one gives a shit about you), instead of burning effigies, I wondered what writers could do to push this as far as it can go. If the lift on the parallel import restrictions goes ahead (I don't really believe anyone will stop the cash-swallowing behemoth now, if we ever could), I'd love to see this plan actually begin to happen and watch the clowns who started it fall all over each other stop the loss of Australia's authors and its identity.
I can dream, can't I?
Let's see where we're at with this.
Coles and Woolies (and Dymocks) want more money than they already have. They've hatched a plan to import remaindered books from overseas for a pittance so they can undercut everyone else locally by a few cents. The consumer is able to consume their book for fifty cents cheaper and the retailers make 90% of the shelf price. Everybody wins, right?
Everyone except the Australian publisher who is at the moment making a higher quality edition, one re-edited into Australian English. They can't compete with the crappy import because Coles and Woolies (and Dymocks) can keep undercutting. They'll have the fat to do it.
Until now, that Australian publisher made money from those local editions of overseas books. They used that money to publish new Australian authors. People like me.
Coles and Woolies (and Dymocks) do a pretty good job of bamboozling the public. They pay money to opinion whores to peddle a pre-written script: a promise of golden fields of cheap books and an Australian wonderland where everyone is in a book club discussing the latest titles.
What they don't mention is that those titles won't be Australian anymore.
Seriously, when was the last time a politician, even a former one, told anything vaguely resembling truth? The argument emerging from the duopoly (and their agreeable appendage) lobby is nothing but smoke and mirrors designed to further line the pockets of already wealthy corporate executives, lobbyists, and of course said opinion whores themselves. Their game never changes: tell everyone what you think they want to hear.
But it strikes me that they haven't thought this through, if they are capable of doing so. If there's one thing I've learned through various publishing industry panics over the years, it's that there is one constant in publishing that no panic can ever kill off: readers need writers.
That got me thinking. How do we, as writers, take control back? After all, we're the engine of this industry. What can we do to direct the conversation where it needs to go?
If Australian publishers can't afford new Australian writers anymore, we as writers have a simple solution at our disposal, one I never considered before, but which now looks increasingly viable.
If the Australian government doesn't value Australian stories, then let's stop telling them. Let's write American ones instead.
Think about it, if your favorite waterhole dries up, what do you do? You move on. Time to start putting those zees in words like 'commercialize', time to 'write US agents and publishers', time to get ourselves a US postal address, time finally to drop that 'u' in color.
But don't get caught up thinking this is about spelling, as important as that is. Writing American means thinking American and encouraging others to do the same. It means chasing the American dream and glorifying its nuances and contradictions.
Sydney can become an exotic international locale, perhaps with an obligatory side trip to Uluru, giving the impression the rock is only an hour's drive from the Harbor Bridge. Actually, better not. Leave Australia to the people who don't live here. They'll make it sound better. Everywhere else in Australia should disappear anyway. That novel you're working on that's set in Brisbane? Time to learn some street names in San Diego. It's easy now. You can use Google Maps and Street View.
Best of all, we can finally stop arguing with our computer spellcheckers.
It won't be easy to ignore our own back yard, but it's something we need to start considering. It's time Australian writers claimed their place as bona fide citizens of the fifty-first state. Let's take control back of our own work and parallel export it out of Australia altogether.
There won't be any more Australian stories told, but so what? Remember, Australia will turn into a wondrous book reading wonderland where everyone reads loads and loads of cheap books and we'll all be able to recite the pledge of allegiance. Some of us might even hold a hand over our heart when we do.
Do you like the sound of that future? Yes? Good for you! No? Then maybe you should tell someone. Start with the Prime Minister. He's not listening to writers. Maybe readers should have a crack. In the meantime, I'll keep looking up some San Diego landmarks.