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2011-12, 371, 372, Editorial, Richard Blair


HARDLY A WEEK GOES BY without some article or report appearing in the press about the parlous state of the Australian book trade. In three editions of The Sydney Morning Herald alone, we read that: ‘The Australian book industry is fighting for its life’ (Spectrum, 30/5/09, p. 12); ‘The rise of the e-book has cast a shadow over the future of traditional publishing’ (Good Weekend, 15/1/11, p. 17); and ‘Borders closed its Australian doors last year’ (Weekend Business, 7/1/12, p. 5). And the year saw the closure, not only of Borders, but also, and in many ways more significantly, of Angus & Robertson. This phenomenon is too complex to attempt to enter the debate here, but clearly the electronic age of publishing and reading cannot be ignored and the rate of change is rapid.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom in the book trade. In fact, the third article cited above (7/1/12, written by Miriam Steffens) reported that ‘a tumultuous year for booksellers ended on a strong note for survivors’ such as Dymocks and Collins Booksellers whilst ‘the Sydney online seller Booktopia boasted its sales in the run-up to Christmas were up 80 per cent from the previous year.’ The article indicated that some smaller independent bookstores have ‘increased their footprint’, though others are obviously struggling. Although it was reported that e-books still account for less than two per cent of book sales in Australia, this figure is bound to rise significantly. Head of Dymocks, Don Grover, maintains consumers still ‘love the smell and the touch and the feel of a book’, though book retailers need to nurture customers with book launches, literary events, loyalty schemes and superior service.

It’s too early to tell how these trends might impact upon book collectors, at least in the short term. The Society did acknowledge the new technology in the two talks presented by Bruce Preston to the Sydney Branch in March and June 2010. The bulk of Bruce’s talks was reproduced in the June 2011 issue (Biblionews 370). As well as presenting an overview of the history of the book, he discussed print-on-demand and various types of the e-book. In this issue Bruce expands on detail about iPads and the Kobe Reader, which had entered the Australian market by June 2010. Of course, in the 18 months since, there have been considerable advances in the technology, such that the hardware becomes ever faster, lighter, more streamlined and, hopefully, cheaper.

Former BCSA President and regular contributor to Biblionews, Brian McDonald, was so stimulated by Jürgen Wegner’s article, ‘George Mackaness: The choice of books’ (Biblionews 367-368, September-December 2010), that he has submitted his own Mackaness article. Brian’s take is to appraise Mackaness in terms of ‘annotations and comments made by another person’, for example, in the use of marginalia. Another prolific Biblionews contributor, Frank Carleton, writes of his lifelong passion for saying Grace in Latin before meals and his acquisition, in England, of several copies of a Latin Grace book, written ‘for the Roman Rite and also for monastic use’.

The annual Show & Tell in Sydney is invariably a much-anticipated occasion and our 2010 Show & Tell was no exception. Most of the material – some brief and others more detailed – is reproduced here. Whilst the contribution of Graham Stone, winner of the celebratory bottle of wine, is limited here in its description, its content is not, as Graham has meritoriously revised his self-published Australian Science Fiction Bibliography 1848-1999 which first appeared in 2004. Another who was prominent in producing a book was John Newland who spoke about the second of a trilogy of works on early coal mining activities in New South Wales. Other contributions included: Jeff Bidgood’s 1893 publication, Old and rare Scottish Tartans; Doug Mackenzie’s box of children’s books mainly associated with the illustrator, Louis Wain; and Brian Taylor’s batch of books once owned by Alice E Drake of Manly, Sydney. Three of these books were written by an Australian woman who married into the German aristocracy. His findings are fascinating. As for my contribution – Christopher Brennan’s extraordinary Musico-poematographoscope – rather than give my views, I gleaned from the Biblionews archives Jean Stone’s 1982 review, which is reproduced here.

There is an enlivening interview by Jacqueline Ogeil, Director of Duneira at Mt Macedon, conducted in May 2011 with Stuart Kells, author of Rare: A Life among Antiquarian Books (reviewed in March 2011 Biblionews). The interview discusses Rare, and other book-related matters. As usual, there are several book reviews by Colin Steele, who, incidentally, has been appointed as one of four judges for the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, which includes the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History. Congratulations, Colin.

We have Notes & Queries and an obituary by Wallace Kirsop for Nancye Perry who died in July 2011. We note the recent deaths of two other Victorian members, Dr David O’Sullivan of Willaura and Les Logan of Doncaster. I am pleased to welcome our new members. From NSW: Barry Mood, Matraville; Lindsay Payne, Double Bay; James Errol Scarlett, Willoughby East; along with Linley Horrocks, Beechworth, Victoria. Lindsay spoke at Sydney’s June meeting on ‘The life, times & books of William Hardy Wilson’ and his talk will appear in a future issue. James Scarlett has written a memoir of his lifelong joy in book collecting and we look forward to seeing this article in Biblionews.

The issue contains the minutes of the BCSA Sydney 2011 AGM, along with the annual reports of the President, Chris Nicholls, and the Publications Editor. Chris’s report includes updates on the website, Michael Hough’s long term project on the history of the Society, and the ongoing vexatious matter of the Sydney meeting venue. The three meetings in 2011 held at the University of Sydney were at different venues. Our venue for the March 2012 meeting will be in the newly-built Law Library. We thank Su Hanfling, Acting Librarian and her staff, especially Anna Schwenke, in finding an alternative location.

Regrettably some errors occurred in the layout of the June issue and apologies are extended, especially to Doug Mackenzie, for the omissions on page 94 of that issue. It is hoped the Corrigenda which follow will, to some extent, compensate for those errors and omissions.

As it was not possible, due to voluntary editorial duties for another organisation, to bring out the September issue in 2011, I have merged the September and December issues. I trust the content sufficient to demonstrate that members won’t be short-changed in terms of value.

Richard Blair



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