Last night I was fortunate to attend the Indie Book Awards. It was a great evening, hosted by Hachette Australia in Sydney. These awards are organised by Leading Edge Books, who support independent bookshops (see more about them in last weekend’s AFR and in this interview with Galina Marinov). The shortlists and winners are voted by staff at Australia’s 170+ indie bookstores; widely read and discerning readers who have a strong sense of which books are the standouts and what readers should buy and appreciate.
The Indie Awards are also the first of Australia’s slew of literary awards for the year and a valuable predictor of what is going to appear on shortlists across the country. They have a strong record of picking winners in their seven-year history, including last year’s overall winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which of course went on to win the Man Booker Prize and jointly win the Prime Minster’s Literary Awards.
Winner of the Fiction category, was Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin Australia), which I reviewed for the SunHerald. Sonya wasn’t able to attend because of house renovations but she sent a memorable thank-you speech that brought the parlous state under her house to life.
The Bush by Don Watson (Penguin Australia) beat a strong field in the Non-Fiction category, which included Helen Garner’s This House of Grief (Text), Where Song Began by Tim Low (Penguin) and Cadence by Emma Ayres (ABC Books HarperCollins), who graciously attended. Her book, with its strong music background, looks fascinating. The Bush also won the overall Book of the Year award.
Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette Australia) was the popular winner of the Debut Fiction. This was a strongly contested category, which included Emily Bitto’s The Strays (Affirm Press). (See my review here.)
The Children’s and YA shortlist spanned a picture book, Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic); a YA novel, Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc) (see my interview with Alice here) and two completely different novels for primary aged children, The 52-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (Pan Macmillan) and Withering-by-Sea, the deserving winner by author-illustrator Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins). (See my review here.)
A distinctive aspect of the evening was the announcement of the winners by booksellers from Sydney as well as interstate. This set the tone of the Indies as an award with special synergy and respect between authors, publishers and booksellers.
Widely reported in Australian book news over the past couple of days is the decision by Melbourne indie bookstore Readings to use a new Australian start-up’s web technology to launch an ebook initiative. This is big news for essentially everyone in the trade in Australia, not because the offering is especially mindblowing, but because of the relief we all felt on reading this that at least this particular piece of news had nothing to do with Amazon.
The new start-up is called Booki.sh and is a Google Editions-esque web-based ebook platform. Essentially what this means is that instead of using an app (like the iBooks or Kindle app on the iPad and iPhone), or a dedicated reading device (like the Kobo, Sony or Kindle reader), you access your books directly from your web browser. The service uses HTML5 technology, the newest implementation of the programming code that underpins the web.
A significant feature of HTML5 is that it allows websites to store files on your device. This means that when you first buy a book on Booki.sh through the website, your web browser downloads the book files in the background, so that even when you’re not connected to the internet, you can still read that book through your browser: on the iPad and iPhone, you can even add the book to your homescreen and access the book whenever you want to read it. The service even works with the Kindle 3; I tried the demo through the browser on my Kindle 3 and although it wasn’t quite as smooth as reading a native Kindle book, it was nothing like viewing a web page through the Kindle’s terrible browser – it even utilises the Kindle’s turn page buttons!
The demo service that Book.ish has made available is not without its kinks. Although it’s fairly slick, it’s not quite as slick as using an app or a dedicated reading device to read your ebooks. It’s also missing some pretty key features that I have started to rely on – like an in-built dictionary, annotation and highlighting. It’s also missing bookmark syncing, though you have to assume that when an account system is built in it will include this fairly obvious feature (ie if the book is already on the web, you may as well be able to sync bookmarks across every device that accesses it). It’s also not clear just yet whether readers will be able to use their own documents on Booki.sh, like the Kindle Personal Documents service.
Nonetheless, this is a very promising proof-of-concept that could become something quite interesting with the support of indie booksellers and a bit more development. Whether they’ll be able to compete with the likes of Google Editions, once Editions launches, is another thing entirely – but we have to hope that the little guys like this still have a chance. There’s also the concern I’ve raised in an earlier post about cloud-based services, and whether readers will be OK with not owning a ‘thing’ when it comes to reading – but rather access to a thing. Either way, this is one to watch.