Over a barrel

Ideas Kaboom!

The idea of creative writing is plastic. It’s a vast global business, it’s a singular remote activity, it’s digital and ancient, it’s free and expensive, it’s a past time and a career, it’s a legacy and aspiration, you can study it, you don’t need to, it takes myriad forms, it’s individual and there are societies, groups, and collaborators, with boundless measures of success and of failure.

Whatever happens to the sector, or industry, or arts tax policy area under global trade deals or government funding arrangements, and multinational corporations, writers are always over a barrel because it’s a passion. There will be writers who write, regardless of the remoteness of a fair reward, and despite of changes mooted by Australia’s Productivity Commission to limit copyright to a measly 15 years post-publication.

Instead of spending a year dead for tax purposes, I could live here for copyright purposes.

Instead of spending a year dead for tax purposes, I could live here for writing copyright purposes.

It’s the world

Globalisation and digital technology mean my potential audience is the world, but it also means I’m competing to be read not only with all the fish swimming in Australia’s pond, but with the schools of fish in the global ocean of publishing opportunities. And then my government wants me not to own my work because it’s a ‘hobby’? Screw you Productivity Commission. If you can protect Hollywood with the TPP, surely you can protect the likes of me?

Depiction of a writer based on 15 year copyright laws.

Projection of an Australian writer based on 15 year copyright laws.

With potential copyright changes I may benefit when buying cheaper books, but little publishers and conglomerate offices located here will suddenly have to compete with the world without the market protections companies are afforded in other territories. While Australia can compete in terms of expertise, professionalism, training, technology and efficiency, it simply can’t on price. Because Australians like things such as living wages and fair conditions. Even authors. #justsaying

Let’s say it’s looking even worse if you, like me, want to be published by an Australian publisher. Who will buy my book if overseas publishers can flood the Australian market with X Overseas Book made at and sold for half the cost of books edited and published here? I’m going to have to be insta-reality TV-famous to overcome price points.

Work the system

Without a system that ensures writers can make (adequate or any) money, fewer books will be written. And, I posit, they will be of lesser quality as the industry infrastructure around writers disappears. And it is disappearing. There are those who are actively making writing less professional. They are defunding publications, professional bodies, courses, scholarships and prizes, which are exactly what helps writers carve out a proper and even mildly sustainable career in a fully fledged industry. This is important too, because without writers, Australian editors, publishers and sales people, reviewers, designers, and booksellers and the people cleaning the businesses and selling them wine no longer have jobs either.

Many authors work with their writing stuffed into the crevices of time in between everything else because it’s the only way to pay for it until that magical day it pays for itself. Some writers never see that day and for some, that’s ok, it’s the balance they need. It doesn’t work for all though. A hope that it maybe possible to write books for a living must be available. I need to bring attention to this idea:

It shouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to make money from something people want to buy. 

If your book sucks and no one buys it, fair enough. But if it’s good, and people buy it, or even if it sucks and people buy it, the author needs something in exchange, like for example, hard, cashy currency. To pay the gorram bills and to eat.

Furthermore, what these changes do is silo full-time writing into a niche occupation for the independently wealthy or the fully supported. If you’re lucky to have the money or rich enough spouse that’s great, but that’s one demographic in an Australia with many. Literature’s cup should be filled from as many streams as possible. It tastes better that way.

Outsource moi?

Who wants to be responsible for killing off an entire industry? Remember what removing market interventions did to apparel manufacturing in Australia? Yep, there virtually is none now. Sure clothing is cheaper, but it’s also shoddier since we shipped most of the making of stuff to China. While we have done that with printing, you can’t sit down sweatshop workers in Guangzhou to write Australian novels, stories and poetry.

The model we need to look at is France. Yes I know. But they protect their language and culture ferociously. It’s why French films get made, it’s why there are French books and a rich literary industry. It’s also why you can’t call Australian sparking white wine champagne. Our culture is just as valuable, and rarer. There are less Australians, and like any rare creature, we need protection, perhaps a kind of zoo, for our unique stories to survive.


I could invite crowd funding, but I’m not famous and don’t yet have a big enough worthy idea. I could try Patreon, which seems more sustainable in that money comes in over a longer time period, like pay, but again, I remain a lil fish, not Amanda Palmer. And if we all have to do this there is charity fatigue. Why support me, people will argue, when they can fund the next book by Helen Garner or Christos Tsiolkas or whoever else with long and proven track records, awards, and reasonably famous names.

Rant over

While I rail at aspects of the literary world that remain, at times, exploitative of writers, there’s a place for publishers, editors and authors working together for mutual benefit. The system needs reform, and is piecemeal now, but it ought not be broken in the name of a free market ideology no other book market operates under.

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