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Department of Economics

Economics and Culture Research

The Australian Book Industry:
Authors, Publishers and Readers in a Time of Change

What is this research?

The Australian Book Industry: Authors, publishers and readers in a time of change is a three-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council. Professor David Throsby from the Department of Economics at Macquarie University heads the research team, which also includes Dr Jan Zwar, Dr Tom Longden and Mr Paul Crosby. The project started in February 2014 and will be completed by early 2017.

This project investigates: (1) authors and their responses to changing circumstances; (2) book publishers and the ways in which they contribute economic, social and cultural value; and (3) practices of contemporary book readers.

Authors and their responses to changing circumstances

This study investigates the changing profession of book authorship. In mid-2014 the research team ran an invitation-only online discussion forum with over 60 Australian authors located in Australia and overseas who are writing in a broad range of genres. We asked about their experiences in the changing industry. You can read the first articles about their discussion in Australian Author Online at: and

The forum was a preliminary stage in the preparation of a major national survey of over 1000 authors that will run every year for three years. We are surveying authors about their experiences of e-publishing, self-publishing, and the opportunities offered by new media marketing channels including social media. We are also asking for their opinions about the changing expectations on the part of readers and publishers, such as extended interaction through websites, blogs, tweets etc., and whether authors are changing their creative and work practices in response to these expectations.

Ultimately, the study explores the successes and frustrations of Australian authors in the contemporary publishing environment, and their recommendations to other authors. Gaining a reliable, statistical overview of what their peers are doing will help individual Australian authors in their decision-making and will increase our understanding of authorship as a contemporary profession. Although this is an independent study by Macquarie University, the research team is working closely with the Australian Society of Authors, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Australian Poetry, the Alliance for Independent Authors, Australian Poetry, CAL and writers' centres across Australia.

Australian book publishers and the ways in which they contribute economic, social and cultural value

This component of the project is based on structured case-studies and small-group work involving a range of publishers including majors, scholarly publishing houses, and independents. The research focuses on case studies of innovative publishers, with the definition of 'innovation' deliberately broad, including new business models, marketing and distribution initiatives, new forms of interaction with consumers, creative forms of writing and publishing or technical innovation. In short, the reactions of selected Australian-based publishers to changing market conditions will be examined to consider the different strategic responses from publishers to financing, publishing, printing and distribution (including print-on-demand, electronic publishing and the use of social media in the marketing of their catalogues). A later stage of the research will draw together the findings to theorise the ways in which book publishers contribute economic, social and cultural value. This part of the research project is conducted with the support of the Australian Publishers Association and the Small Press Network.

Australians as readers, consumers of books, and other forms of valuation

The final component of our study investigates readers. Australia has long prided itself as a reading nation. This part of the study surveys a nationally representative sample of Australians in 2015 to ask them how they value the contribution books and book publishing have made to their own lives and Australian society in the broadest possible sense.

Whether or not people choose to read particular kinds of books, they may value the fact that a viable Australian publishing industry produces them (e.g. bequest value for future generations; option value, to consume at a later date; altruism; and other benefits). The study will examine a range of issues including: willingness to pay for printed books and e-books and reasons why; participants' awareness of the Australian book publishing industry and links made (if any) with their valuations accorded to books and book reading; and, new forms of value being created in the digital environment for book readers. The survey methodology will use choice modelling (based on a survey instrument provided by the US Pew Foundation, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).

The report has now been released as a Macquarie Economics Research Paper, Australian Book Readers: Survey Methods and Results.

Why do this research?

The Australian book sector generates over $2 billion annually and is one of Australia's major creative industries but it is in crisis, undergoing 'paradigmatic change' as part of the global industry. The research fills contemporary knowledge gaps by developing new models of the structure and operations of the book supply chain.

Despite the real and urgent sense of crisis in the industry, there are also developments that give some cause for optimism. The advent of social media has enabled Australian authors to find new and diverse readerships domestically and internationally, and has led to the formation of new communities of readerships. The quality of digital printing and new print-on-demand services has made it viable for new, independent publishers to set up and to offer high-quality productions on a micro scale. There is some evidence that eBook readers are also avid readers of print books, with the possibility that book reading cultures may be evolving to incorporate new forms of consumption and engagement. The changing environment in which the book industry operates poses threats to established structures but also provides opportunities for innovative industrial development.

How will project findings be disseminated?

The research findings will be made available to members of the Australian book industry in conjunction with professional and industry associations. We expect to publish research articles in journals that deal with the economics of arts and culture. We also look forward to making our findings available to the general public through the media.

What are the benefits?

Although the research will result in scholarly publications, we also wish to make the findings available in ways which are of interest to, and accessible to, authors, publishers, booksellers and other members of the Australian book industry. In a time of rapid time, structured empirical investigations will assist the industry by drawing together anecdotal accounts of changes into a structured overview.

In academic terms, the project aims to:

  • produce new theoretical models of the structure and operations of the book supply chain under conditions of rapid technological change;
  • understand the ways in which authors use social media and other new technologies to build communities of readers, and the theoretical implications for authors as cultural creators;
  • examine the responses of Australian publishers to industry changes, and to reassess their capacity to contribute to the nation's cultural life in the new environment;
  • investigate everyday Australians' cultural valuations of books, book reading and book cultures.

The project findings will inform members of the Australian book industry, government agencies and peak bodies in the arts and cultural sector about the changes underway and their implications for cultural and commercial creators.

Research Team

Prof David Throsby
Department of Economics
Faculty of Business and Economics
Building E4A, Room 438
Macquarie University
Ph 61 2 9850 8474
Dr Jan Zwar
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Economics
Faculty of Business and Economics
Building E4A, Room 420
Macquarie University
Ph 61 2 9850 8491

Dr Paul Crosby 
Department of Economics

With thanks to Dr Tom Longden and Mr Callum Morgan for substantial work throughout the project, and to Mara Hammerle for data analysis for the final Readers Report.

No results were found