The annual Leading Edge Books conference was held recently in Hobart with over 90 independent booksellers attending. Held over 3 days the conference focused on a wide range of issues as well as having a rich author program. Like in previous years the most valuable experience of the conference was being in a room with other independent booksellers and sharing ideas, advice and experience.
For a number of members the conference started on Friday evening with a tall ship cruise on the Derwent River. This was a wonderful way to introduce as all to Hobart and was followed by a dinner where we heard from Mike Carlton whose book, Cruiser, will be published in August. It details the story of the HMAS Perth and its crew. It was the perfect fit with the river cruise and it sounds like Carlton has a book to rival Peter Fitzsimons.
The official start of the conference was at midday and after registration things kicked off with a lunch presentation by award winning children’s author Patrick Ness. Ness talked about his motivation in writing and it fit perfectly with independent booksellers as we are both driven by passion. His parting message was “write with joy and the rest takes care of itself”.
After the opening presentation from Leading Edge Group CEO, Gavin Ward and incoming General Manger of Leading Edge Books, Simon Milne we started with an open forum with booksellers and publishers discussing where they see their business in 5 years. This forum highlighted the fact that we are at an important crossroad for our industry. Each presenter had a different view on where they saw their business and our industry and it certainly gave us all something to debate. We finished the day with the first member closed forum where some of the best things about the conference occur.
Saturday night was one of the many highlights of the conference. Our dinner was prepared and presented by Matthew Evans (The Real Food Companion, Murdoch Books). The ingredients for our meal were all sourced locally including a Pork Cassoulet that was to die for. During the dinner Matt Richell from Hachette was Parky-like in conversation with Orange Prize winning author Andrea Levy. Andrea concluded this intimate chat by reading from her new novel, The Long Song, which had us all enthralled. Lennie Goodings from Virago was later in conversation with Booker nominated author Sarah Waters and both authors perfectly complimented each other.
Sunday began with a Nielsen BookScan presentation. While bookselling is very healthy in Australia (the market grew 5.8%) this growth was mainly through the Discount Department Stores and they are increasing their market share (Indies 19.8% chains 51.5% DDS 28.7%). As independent booksellers we need to constantly demonstrate our strengths (both to our customers and to our suppliers) and continue to look for points of difference other than price. It was heartening to see that independents had 45% market share for Wolf Hall. There are more titles that we can do that with.
Lennie Goodings from Virago Press gave us a fascinating talk about the different perceptions of male and female writers. Speaking only 24 hours before the first female director won an Oscar we learnt that of the last fifteen Miles Franklin Award winners only four have been women. The Booker Prize also had a poor record of female writers being shortlisted.
Presentations for Sunday finished before lunch with Leading Edge Books General Manger, Simon Milne in conversation with Harper Collins Australia CEO, Michael Moynahan. They begun by discussing the difference between the Australian and UK market whilst examining the dramatic changes that have occurred to the UK Market in recent years. The rest of the day was the Supplier Trade Show which gave many booksellers, in particular those from regional areas, a chance to meet with the Key Account managers from most of the publishers and suppliers that deal through Leading Edge.
Monday saw the launch of Get Reading. Previously called Books Alive, Get Reading offers a much broader promotion of our industry. This was followed by an eBook presentation. The message for booksellers was to stay positive and see eBooks as an opportunity rather than a threat. The eBook market is predicted to be around 5% in Australia which means 95% is still going to be printed books. Baker & Taylor then gave us a demonstration of their eBook reading software and platform, Blio.
The conference closed with a surprise speaker, Marcus Zusack. Marcus read to us from his next book Bridge of Clay. To his horror he’s already 2 years late in delivering the book to Pan Macmillan and he hopes it will be in our stores next year. We were then all taken by Red Double Decker Buses to Moorilla Estate for the Gala Dinner and Awards. Books Plus at Bathurst was named Regional Store of the Year while Pages & Pages at Mosman was named Metropolitan Store of the Year. Allen & Unwin were voted publisher of the year. Comedian Ahn Doh had us in stitches one minute and moved to tears the next as he talked about his upcoming book, The Happy Refugee, which is about his family’s journey to Australia and his troubled relationship with his father. Singer/songwriter Paul Kelly closed the conference talking about his upcoming book with Ben Ball from Penguin. He then performed two songs including a spine-tingling performance of From Little Things Big Things Grow.
Simon Milne and his team are to be congratulated. The Leading Edge Books Conference once again proved itself to be an invaluable experience. There is something about throwing together a bunch of independent booksellers from all around Australia who are all willing to share ideas and help each other in any way that is not only inspiring but invigorating. Couple that with a line-up that included thirteen authors from around the world its little wonder I can’t wait for next year’s conference already.