There is, understandably, much umbrage and anxiety in Canberra following Fairfax’s decision to remove its literary editor at the Canberra Times and to rely exclusively on literary reviews and commentaries emanating from Fairfax’s two main broadsheets, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald – broadsheets that will themselves become tabloids next year, presumably with less literary and cultural content. Australian Book Review regrets this decision, and hopes it will be reconsidered. The Canberra Times has long carried some of the most distinctive and extensive books pages in the country. It seems extraordinary that such a wealthy city – a major university city – a national capital even – cannot support its own bespoke literary pages and must, like some outpost, rely on the word from Melbourne or Sydney. Variety of opinion and sensibility in such a deplorably concentrated media environment as ours is surely worth defending. Without it there will be many victims: writers, readers, critics, booksellers, publishers, etc. We support the campaign to overturn this unfortunate and philistine economy.
Below we carry an open letter from many of those involved in this campaign. We will update it regularly as more names are added, and we welcome readers’ comments.
Editor, Australian Book Review
We, the undersigned, wish to draw to national attention the implication of the upcoming Fairfax consolidation of The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, and the Canberra Times book sections. This has the potential to reduce significantly the content of the three separate sections in terms of both the number of books covered and reviewers. The same review would appear in all three outlets. This will particularly impact on the Canberra Times, currently one of the best book review sections in the country, if, as seems likely, most of the reviews in future will be sourced from ‘Fairfax Central’.
This consolidation will considerably reduce divergent voice and opinion on both fiction, non-fiction, and poetry books in Australia. While Fairfax has indicated that some ‘local content’ will still be included, there is no doubt that many authors and their books will no longer be reviewed. Unlike the United Kingdom and America, where there are numerous publications, Australia is not well served by alternative national literary outlets, Australian Book Review being an honourable exception.
Canberra has the highest book purchasing and reading per head of population in the country, so it seems counter-productive that a search of the Canberra Times book section already only brings up reviews sourced from Sydney and Melbourne. We recognise the challenges confronting the newspaper industry, but we also want to emphasise that the digital era provides opportunities which are currently not being recognised in local content, advertising, and bookshop sales.
We would argue that the reading publics of Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney are sufficiently different that online literary diversity should be promoted by Fairfax, rather than the opposite trend. The lack of public dialogue within the Fairfax papers on this issue to date, despite numerous submissions, is also a matter of regret, especially given the need for public debate is so often espoused by those organs.
Jaki Arthur, Joel Becker, Carmel Bird, Alison Broinowski, David Brooks, Sally Burdon, Alexa Burnell, John Byron, Tracey Cheetham, John Clanchy, Paul Cliff, Kirstin Corcoran, Sara Dowse, Suzanne Edgar, Christine Farmer, Heath Farnsworth, Jane Finemore, Ian Fraser, Brendan Fredericks, Irma Gold, Alan Gould, James Grieve, Janet Grundy, Robert Grundy, Marion Halligan, Paul Hetherington, Chris von Hinckeldey, Claudia Hyles, Subhash Jaireth, Brian Johns, John Kerin, Cora Kipling, Kathy Kituai, Alisa Krasnostein, Elizabeth Lawson, Lesley Lebkowicz, Caroline Le Couteur, Charlie Massy, Andrew McDonald, Debbie McInnes, Patti Miller, Jennifer Moran, Ann Moyal, Kerrie Nelson, Hoang Nguyen, Susan Nicholls, Jane Novak, Benython Oldfield, Kate O’Reilly, Frank O’Shea, Moya Pacey, Geoff Page, Andy Palmer, Bettina Richter, Andrew Schuller, David Skinner, Melinda Smith, Linda Spinaze, Peter Stanley, Colin Steele, Jen Stokes, Dallas Stow, Faye Sutherland, Peter Tinslay, Bethia Thomas, Leon Trainor, June Verrier, Kaaron Warren, Judith White, Robert Willson, Belinda Weaver, and Cameron Woodhead