The Australian Booksellers Association recently had their annual conference in Adelaide. Each year, booksellers from around the country gather together to exchange ideas, acknowledge their peers and, of course, enjoy some good company. At the gala dinner for 2013, I was very proud and chuffed to see Readings’ own Martin Shaw announced as the ABA Text Publishing Bookseller of the Year.
Martin joined Readings over 19 years ago. I recall he was doing a Masters in German at Monash University, and sent me a note saying that he wanted to become a bookseller and that he was prepared to do anything. It was an intriguing and irresistible offer. For the past 14 years, Martin has been the Books Division Manager at Readings and a major player in shaping our collection. He has been a great champion of Australian writing, especially in his support of debut writers and independent publishers. In addition, he has taken a particular interest in literature in translation. He first read authors such as W.G. Sebald and Stieg Larsson in German and became a great advocate of their work, despite the differences between them in terms of style and content.
Always interested in what Australia’s small presses were producing, he became a member of the board of the Small Press Network and an editorial adviser to the journal Kill Your Darlings. He’s been a judge of numerous awards, most recently the Commonwealth Book Prize. In a recent conversation, Martin told me that what he admired most in a writer was a willingness to take risks and try something new: ‘When they can pull it off, it’s magical.’ Martin epitomises exactly what makes a good bookseller – a commitment to the writers and a commitment to the readers.
CEO of the American Booksellers Association, Oren Teicher, was also at the ABA conference. Independents in the US have been struggling for the past decade or so, due at first to the rapid expansion of chains such as Borders, and then to the rise of online retailers such as Amazon and the growth of ebook sales. The demise of Borders gave them some relief, but the huge growth in ebook sales mitigated that.
Teicher reported that in the last year, however, independent booksellers have seen a bit of a turnaround. This stems from a range of factors, he said. The stabilising of the ebook market is one, but there is also a growing desire in many communities to support their local bookshops. It is part of a nationwide movement to support local businesses and the contribution made by bookshops to the community in turn. Booksellers champion writers in ways that no Amazon algorithm can. Indeed, when I was at BookExpo America recently, American booksellers chose Australian novels Burial Rites and The Rosie Project to champion in their shops during the coming fall season. It was exciting to see such enthusiasm and confidence abound.
A large banner advertising The Rosie Project at BookExpo America in New York.
Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings