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Meaning, rage and passion Posted by Susan_Hawthorne on 10 Mar 2010

Today’s blog is dedicated to Jan Gladys who died 8 March 2010

As author Finola Moorhead writes:

We had a great woman among us,
who was so in tune with the female culture she had the amazing
wisdom to die on International Women's Day 2010

International Women’s Day has been and gone. There were an enormous number of events on all around Australia and in the rest of the world – including in the Philippines and Bangladesh. But I don’t know of any events that made the news. Celebrities get in and “do” IWD these days but it’s a pale imitation of how it has been in previous decades. It was a big and newsworthy event in the 1970s and 1980s – it was also newsworthy in 1910 and in 1932.

There seems to be a complacency these days around IWD. Do we really have it all? I don’t think so.

In Afghanistan, RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, posted news that women were mass raped and auctioned while the perpetrators keep their “immunity” and are therefore unpunished.

In Australia we claim that women have a better deal, but as author Melinda Tankard Reist noted in January that gagging blindfolded women could be a fashion statement.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch – and how was this marked? By a nasty and insulting piece in The Monthly magazine (would it have that title if the women’s movement hadn’t happened? is it really just another piece of male appropriation?).

But Germaine Greer is too clever to get caught up in the ruckus – she simply maintained her dignity and wrote an interesting piece in The Age newspaper putting paid to any idea that her work is no longer relevant. I, like many other women, owe the shape of my life to Germaine Greer. Without her influence, I don’t think I’d have been able to do half the things I have. I simply hadn’t imagined it possible. Even the thought of going to university back then was really rather uppity and anyway, only one person in the family will go to university. It wasn’t going to be me, it would be my brother.

Australia Post hasn’t noticed feminism either with its new stamp release of Australian literary legends: five men and one woman! It’s as if we are back in a 1950s time warp.

Literary legends were not in short supply at last week’s Adelaide Writers Week. Andrea Levy’s talk about her latest book Long Song was the standout performance, while Sarah Dunant, Marina Lewycka and Sarah Waters are fine presenters of their work, along with home-grown writers such as Diane Bell, Andrea Goldsmith, Alice Pung and Lolo Houbein. There were others but these writers stood out: not just because what they had to say was interesting, but also because of how they said it, how they had prepared for the session. It’s a great pleasure to hear a favourite author read her work or speak about his work; however, it’s disappointing when what sings on the page sounds flat in person.

It’s a hundred years since Clara Zetkin announced – at another meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark – the inaugural celebration of International Women’s Day. And while it took some time for the date to settle (from 19 March to 8 March) it has galvanised women to collective action over the years. Start thinking now about what you might do for IWD in 2011. Let’s celebrate – with meaning, rage and passion.

Keep an eye on our news items and do follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up. Coming this month is Vandana Shiva’s classic book, Staying Alive.


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Why indie publishers are necessary Posted by Susan_Hawthorne on 26 Feb 2010

In the publishing industry indie publishers are often overlooked. This appears to be very different from the way indie music producers are regarded. I’ve noticed that the media when it talks to indie music producers or indie film producers has a kind of regard that is unusual towards publishers.

Maybe I just don’t know enough about what goes on in the background – all the emails, phone calls, networking that goes on. Whatever the case, let’s look at indie publishing.

I’ve been in publishing for more than two decades, most of it as an independent publisher. In the 1980 and 1990s there was a thriving English-language independent feminist publishing scene in USA, Canada, NZ, UK, India and Australia. There were also similar publishers across Western Europe.

Feminist publishers used to make up a substantial proportion of the independent publishing world. These days, in the English-language world, only India can claim a thriving network of feminist publishers. The feminist publishers in other English-speaking countries can be counted on the fingers of one hand. We used to meet annually at the Book Expo in America – with at least 50 publishers and more than 200 booksellers. Globalisation, and the advent of superstores saw an end to many of these businesses who were not only publishers and booksellers but also hubs of communication within feminist communities.

European feminist publishers held out a little longer because the juggernaut of the English-language system took longer to have its effects. German publishers often bought rights from those publishers – and so like a caterpillar it slowly digested the energy.

Independent publishers – among them feminist publishers – are necessary because they tend to take on risky books. They feel passionately about what they publish about what they publish – and mostly their loyal audiences feel just as passionately.
Indies do not engage in bathplug publishing – that is, the same product in different colours because for most of them content, production values, and editorial relationships are all extremely important.

In the world of digital publishing, the same passions and energy will drive independent digital publishing. While there are new skills to learn and some new ways of doing things, ePublishing will only be as interesting as the imaginations of those engaging in it. Indeed, it may open the door for new kinds of marketing that depend on connection to communities.


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The Digital Revolution Posted by Danika on 18 Feb 2010
This week the Australian Publishers Association and the Australia Council for the Arts presented Digital Revolution: Publishing in the 21st Century symposium. Spinifex Director, Susan Hawthorne, was involved as a member of the organising committee and as a speaker.

I attended the Melbourne session, which was a full day of speakers and Q&A sessions on Monday, followed by two talks on Tuesday: by Martin Taylor from NZ’s Digital Publishing Forum about the state of the New Zealand publishing industry vis-à-vis digital publishing, and Chris Palma from Google.

The international keynote speakers for the first day were Richard Charkin, Bloomsbury; Stephen Page, Faber & Faber; and Michael Tamblyn, Kobo. They were great to listen to because in a lot of ways they showed where the intersection of print and digital publishing in Australia might go in the future. Britain has had ereader devices easily available to the general public for a few years, due to partnership with Waterstones, the large ‘bricks and mortar’ bookshop chain.

Michael Tamblyn had a different perspective again. Kobo is a Canadian company that has been operating in various territories including the US. It was interesting to hear Kobo’s experience of the overseas ebook market as an antidote to endless pontificating as to whether this or that may be true of the Australian market in the future. Several speakers reiterated the need to bring out ebooks at the same time as paper books, and Kobo’s data reflected this. In their experience, 48% of the lifetime sales of a book happen in the first 90 days. Makes you wonder whether the practice of ‘windowing’ books (currently being trialled by Macmillan in the States) is either useful or sensible. If this is true, this means that it’s in the publisher’s best interest to try and release the physical and digital versions of a book at the same time.

The keynote speakers were joined by a host of locals, who gave a picture of the Australian industry as it is now. They spoke on various facets of future publishing from iPhone applications to DRM to accessible publishing. It was great to hear from a cross-section of the industry, too: educational publishers from primary through to tertiary and trade. It’s easy just to focus on the corner of the industry that you’re a part of and not be aware of the wider experience. Ebooks are also something that need to be approached very differently when publishing text-based trade books (like novels or non-illustrated non-fiction) than when publishing highly illustrated or formatted books like textbooks or recipe books, so different parts of the industry will have different things to struggle with.

The other thing that’s good to remember is that digital reading isn’t just about ebooks. Ebooks are what we’re focusing on, of course, but there’s also web-based digital reading, whether it’s a site like JSTOR that hosts scans of hundreds of academic journals; or Oxford University Press’s Ask Oxford website that allows you to search a few of its dictionaries and web-only content like “Ask the Experts”; or Mathletics, which is a digital answer to a maths textbook.

What I took away from the symposium was a new excitement of places that Spinifex might go next. Martin Taylor’s description of New Zealand’s journey and the advantages and disadvantages of being a small country were often directly applicable to the situation of being a small company, particularly the point that we often have time but not money to play with. Going digital is both exciting and scary (I’m a lover of the printed word and don’t want ‘real’ books to disappear!), and I’ll be fascinated to see where the industry goes from here.

Appropriately for a digital conversation, the symposium was covered via Twitter live. There’s since also been an ABC News article, and several Bookseller+Publisher blog posts ('Ebooks: Why readers will pay more (but not much more)' and 'Digital dilemmas: think like a reader') and articles (their report on the symposium here and on the Google chat here).
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Web Generation 5.0 Posted by Susan_Hawthorne on 12 Feb 2010

Welcome to the Spinifex Press website generation 5.0. Our first website was up with a complete list of titles in late 1995, and we were the third Australian publisher to have an active website (after CSIRO Publishing and Lonely Planet). Over the years we have upgraded our website along with technological shifts. From plain HTML to using frames to using CMS, PHP and MySQL with each new move our website has become more and more interactive and useful – to customers, booksellers, authors, researchers, festival organisers and a host of people who would not otherwise know about our authors and their fabulous books.

In 1996, we set up an interactive website book interface. By today’s standards the interaction was minimal, but it allowed us to experiment with reader reactions to Suniti Namjoshi’s novel, Building Babel. This novel is an allegorical discussion about how culture is created and how internet culture might develop. Called the Babel Building site, it included poems, drawings, music and reflections by readers. It has been archived by the Pandora Archive at the National Library of Australia.
Many Spinifex authors have helped us traverse the new digital terrain: Dale Spender with her groundbreaking Nattering on the Net (1995); Rye Senjen and Jane Guthrey with The Internet for Women (1996); Beryl Fletcher’s novel, The Silicon Tongue (1996) and Suniti Namjoshi’s Building Babel (1996). These books were followed by the anthology CyberFeminism (1999).

In mid-2006 we decided to take the chance and leap fully into the digital era. We began working with ValueChain to begin converting our files so that we would be able to sell our titles as eBooks. We have steadily increased the number of titles and are now increasing the platforms available as well at the Spinifex eBookstore.

We started early with eBook development and have learned a great deal in the process as well as contributing to national discussions about the way forward. Finally, eBooks are the new big thing in Australia, except that not many companies are yet actually selling them. Spinifex has been doing so for three years, yet we have trouble getting airspace about our pioneering endeavours.
We are pleased to be launching the fifth generation of our website. We want to keep in touch with our readers wherever you are. We also want to help authors and readers connect and we love hearing from you via our Spinifex Facebook. You can follow news announcements on Twitter and soon you can subscribe to our News page via RSS and check out many authors’ personal sites and blogs via their bio pages.

Susan Hawthorne will speak at the APA’s Digital Revolution Symposium on Feb 15.


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