Publishing in the 21st Century

The Digital Revolution: Publishing in the 21st Century

Senator Kim Carr Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research

15 February 2009 State Library of Victoria Melbourne, Victoria

In November 2007, Kevin Rudd appointed me Minister for Innovation.

In November 2009, Maree McCaskill anointed me Minister for Publishing.

It is hard to say which was the greater honour.

The links between publishing and my other portfolio - which covers everything from scholarship to printing - are clear enough.

But I can think of several colleagues with an equally strong interest in what you do.

The Arts Minister, certainly, which is why the Australia Council is backing this symposium.

The Attorney-General, who is the keeper of the Copyright Act.

The Education Minister.

The Minister responsible for the digital economy.

And of course the Prime Minister, who takes an interest in everything.

It must have been a hard choice for Maree to make.

Parallel import restrictions

Why so much interest in this particular industry?

Because publishing is pervasive.

Because publishing enables and empowers.

Because publishing shapes not just the way we understand the world, but the way we live in it.

Given how much we have to talk about, it is a shame so many of our conversations over the past year or two have focused on just one question - parallel import restrictions.

This is not a carcase I want to pick over again today.

It is right that we had the debate, and it is right that we chose to maintain territorial copyright.

This is a necessary condition for maintaining a healthy book industry in Australia.

Necessary, but not sufficient.

This industry - like every Australian industry - will only prosper in a cut-throat global marketplace if it is prepared to innovate.

Supply chain

I can't put it better than my colleague, the Competition Minister, Craig Emerson.

Announcing the decision to retain territorial copyright, he said, and I quote:
"... changing the regulations governing book imports is unlikely to have any material effect on the availability of books in Australia. If books cannot be made available in a timely fashion and at a competitive price, customers will opt for online sales and e-books." (Media Release, 11 November 2009)This is the real challenge.

In a situation like this, there is no point circling the wagons.

You have to go on the attack.

That means becoming more competitive and more responsive.

One way to do that is by getting books to customers faster.

Everyone in the industry has a role to play in this, but in my view it is publishers who must take the lead.

Publishing may be an intensely creative activity, but it is also a practical exercise in supply chain integration.

We have to get much better at the mechanics of that if we are to compete against the online behemoths.

Technological change

Even when we get the physical distribution sorted out, we will still have that other supply chain to think about - the one that consists of copper wire and fibre-optic cable.

This opens up huge opportunities - to develop new products and services, to increase accessibility, and to reduce prices.

It isn't just about e-books - I'm a great fan of the audio book, and digitisation has already changed the way they are produced and sold.

Nevertheless, it is electronic book formats that are attracting the most attention, because they present the most direct challenge to print.

Opinion is divided on how fast the e-book market will grow.

We are told that digital formats currently account for less than 1 per cent of sales in Australia, and that the figure might be a 30 per cent a decade from now.

Then what?

It took ten years for the internet to reach 16 per cent of Australian homes.

A decade later it had reached 72 per cent.

If e-books follow the same trajectory, the book industry as we know it could be gone in my lifetime.

People argue that there will always be demand for printed books.

Five and a half centuries years ago, scriveners greeted the arrival of the printing press with equally confident assurances that there would always be demand for manuscripts.

For a while it seemed they might be right.

We know there were fifteenth-century penmen who made a living transcribing printed books for readers who wanted them in the manuscript format they knew and loved.

This didn't last long.

Within a generation the scribes themselves were battling to make their handwriting look like printed type in a sad and fruitless effort to stay in the game.You don't need me to spell out the lesson of this parable.

You can't build a business case on atavism.

You can't build a future on nostalgia.

To be honest, I find it hard to see the book disappearing entirely from the information technology landscape - not in my lifetime, and not in my children's lifetime either.

What I do expect to see is an environment in which the printed book is just one platform among many - and may not be the dominant one.

This is reality we have to deal with.

Whether we like it or not, the technology is changing.

If we want the Australian book industry to survive, we have to change with it.


So - what is to be done?

This is a question only you can answer, so today I announce the establishment of a Book Industry Strategy Group to focus on that task.

The composition of the group will be determined in consultation with the industry.

The chair will be independent.

The group will have precise terms of reference, and no more than a year to report back on them.

We can talk more about the scope of the exercise before work begins, but I would expect it to cover:

o the supply chain and technology issues I've canvassed this morning;
o the questions raised by Professor Roy Green and his colleagues in the landmark report on management skills they prepared for us last year;
o and much else besides.

The aim is to produce a serious piece of research, analysis, and strategic thinking.

But this isn't just about the product.

It is also about the process.

It is about bringing people together and giving them a chance to find common ground and a shared purpose.

This will include working with:
o the Printing Industry Working Group;
o the Creative Industries Innovation Centre;
o and the IT Industry Innovation Council.

It will mean collaborating as widely and inclusively as possible.

This is the key to successful innovation in a networked world.

The future

People have been saying for a while now that what we need is a book industry plan.

No one is going to ghost it for you - the industry will have to tell its own story - but I will do everything in my power to facilitate the process.

That won't just mean providing a forum for discussion.

It will also mean allowing the strategy group to call on Enterprise Connect and other areas of my portfolio for help with projects that address its terms of reference.It is critically important that we make this thing work.

The last thing I want is Maree withdrawing my commission.


The Rudd Labor Government is establishing a new Book Industry Strategy Group to help Australia's $1.5 billion book industry meet the challenges of increased online book sales and grasp the opportunities presented by the emerging ebook market.

The strategy group will bring together representatives from across the industry to map out the way forward for this important sector. It will develop strategies to address the key issues of supply chain integration and developing viable business models for the digital age.

Announcing the strategy group at the Digital Revolution: Publishing in the 21st Century symposium in Melbourne today, Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr said it will focus on collaboration, transformation and future sustainability.

"The written word may be almost as old as human civilisation itself but this doesn't mean we can ignore the very real and very rapid advances being made in digital publishing technologies," Senator Carr said.

"We are moving into an environment in which the printed book is just one platform among many.

"We have a proud and distinguished literary history in this country thanks to the work of generations of talented authors, publishers and local book manufacturers.

"Australia has the only dynamic and growing independent book selling sector in the English-speaking world.

"I want to keep it that way. We must be prepared to seize the opportunities the digital revolution is offering.

"I am giving this strategy group a very clear mandate - I don't just want a report, I want a way forward.

"I want to see book printers, publishers, distributors and retailers together in one room collaborating with each other and taking responsibility for transforming their industry in a way that ensures its future sustainability.

"The group will be able to tap into our existing $50 million Enterprise Connect initiative and a broad range of other programs currently in place to assist business transformation."

The Book Industry Strategy Group will operate according to precise terms of reference and is expected to report back within twelve months.


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