What I’m reading this Christmas: Galina Marinov, Leading Edge Books

Three StoriesThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Galina Marinov.

Thanks for having me.

You’re the buyer and marketing manager at Leading Edge Books and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and your work.

Leading Edge Books has a national profile. What does LEB do? 

Leading Edge Books is a marketing and buying group behind more than 170 independent booksellers from all over Australia. We are part of a wider Leading Edge Group – an organisation providing vital services for small independent retailers – from Books, Music and Video stores, to Electronics, Computers, Appliances, to Jewellery shops. Leading Edge Group also operates in Telecommunication and Technology services.

Members of Leading Edge Books have access to improved trading terms with all the major Australian publishers through group buying and variety of backlist and other promotional offers. In addition, bookstores have access to marketing materials in the form of print and online catalogues, newsletters, POS and merchandise services.

We run a dedicated promotional website under the brand of Australian Independent Booksellers (www.indies.com.au) and its associated social media channels, promoting new publications as well as serving as a gateway to member-bookstores own websites.Galina

In addition to buying and marketing services, Leading Edge Books serves as an entity uniting independent booksellers in Australia and provides opportunities to its membership to exchange ideas, expertise and innovation. We work closely with the Australian Bookseller Association and for the past few years have run conjoined conferences – forums packed full of sessions on topics pertinent to Australian book trade and bookselling – from industry-wide developments and challenges, to small business essentials, and opportunities to hear from authors about their new publications.

All our activities and programs are centered on providing support to the booksellers in our group – from offering marketing support and improved profit margins, to ability to share expertise with likeminded people and businesses. We’d like to think of Leading Edge Books as an organisation that contributes to keeping Australian independent booksellers thriving and prospering in changing market conditions.

SpringtimeWhat is different/special about Leading Edge Books? 

Leading Edge booksellers share a strong commitment to maintaining the highest standard in terms of depth of range, customer service and expert advice on the best books for adults, young adults and children.

Independents are well recognised by the publishing community as the biggest supporters of Australian writing and are instrumental in nurturing and promoting new Australian writing. In recognition of this role, in 2008 we established the Indie Book Awards – awards recognising the best in Australian writing in the category of fiction, non-fiction, children’s & YA and debut fiction, as selected by independent booksellers.

Announced early in the year, the Indie Book Awards are now considered the front runner of Australian literary awards. We are proud to have had as our Book of the Year some of the best Australian books of the past few years – Breath by Tim Winton, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, All That I Am by Anna Funder, The Light Between Oceans by L.M. Stedman and The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan which went on to win this year’s Man Booker Prize.

We are currently in the process of collating the nominations for the 2015 Indie Book Awards and it is heartening to see so many young and debut Australian authors being nominated.

Why  are independent bookshops  so important and what do you see as the way forward in the book industry?A Strange Library

Independent booksellers are renowned for their passion for books. They know their books and their customers and often serve as hubs to their local communities, encouraging love of literature, literacy and education. As such, they are much more than commercial enterprises; they are indispensable to our society cultural institutions.

We are proud to have in our group some of the best independent booksellers in Australia – from Readings in Melbourne, to Boffins in Perth, to Avid Reader and Riverbend Books in Brisbane, to Abbey’s, Gleebooks and Pages & Pages in Sydney.

Far from the “doom and gloom’’ often portrayed in the media when it comes to the current state of the book industry, these booksellers offer brilliant examples of successful businesses which thrive on change and innovation. Maintaining the core independent bookselling ethos of serving and working closely with their local communities, they are also very active on social media, reach wider audience through strong online presence and view new formats such as ebooks as a way of enriching services to their customers rather than as a threat.

You’re the buyer and marketing manager at LEB – what do these roles involve?

We are a very small team of only four staff members working exclusively for the Books group and as such we all work together across the entire range of services we offer to our member stores.

Absolutely Beautiful ThingsMy main responsibilities lie in the areas of group buying – I work closely with representatives from all the major Australian publishers in offering the best titles for independent bookstores at best possible terms – and I also manage the production of marketing materials for the group. I love being able to see what’s being published across all publishers and imprints, and across genres – from fiction, to non-fiction, biographies, illustrated books to children’s and YA. We work 3 to 4 months in advance, so more often than not I read books that will be published in the future. Love of reading and knowledge of authors and publications are essential to this role, in order to being able to offer titles suitable for independent booksellers and to produce marketing materials and promotions of relevance to our bookstores.

How did you get this job?

I’ve been with Leading Edge Books for over six years now. The sum of all my previous experience (and of course love of books) led me to this role.

I was lucky my first job in Australia over twenty years ago was with a library and educational supplier. They were also an agent for a number of overseas publishers. That period of my early career was a crash course on who’s who of Australian publishing and the relationships between publishers, booksellers, libraries and agents.

After finishing a post graduate Diploma in Library and Information Sciences, I could have well gone down the road of Twelve Days of Christmasbecome a reference librarian (my dream at the time) but ended up taking up a position with Doubleday Book Clubs, first as an editorial assistant, then as a product manager within the new member recruitment team and later as a product manager/club director for some of their specialty book clubs. Product selection, buying, creative, marketing, editorial was all part of the job. I met and worked with some incredible people, read widely both fiction and non-fiction, and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately by mid-2000 the book club concept was on the way out and the clubs failed to re-position themselves in the new online selling environment.

I went on to work as a senior product manager for Random House – a role that gave me the opportunity to work within a publishing company. The learning curve was steep but extremely rewarding – I was responsible for the product management of the Random House UK list and for local reprints – and I absolutely loved the idea of working for the publisher of some of my favourite authors, both local (Peter Carey, Matthew Condon and Christopher Koch were all published by Random House at the time) and UK literary giants such as Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes and Louis de Bernieres, just to mention a few.

Then the offer for this job came and I could not resist the opportunity to see it all from the bookseller side of the industry…

The Rosie EffectI enjoy seeing you at writers’ festivals and know how passionate you are about the books you come across, but could you tell us about some that you particularly love.

Like anyone who works in the book industry I read a lot and I buy a lot of books. My library is full of ‘my favourites’ – way too many to list here, and the moment I finish writing this I know there will be dozens more that will come to mind, but here are a few offerings.

Anything Jane Austen – I’m a huge Jane Austen fan – and especially Pride and Prejudice.

Then in no particular order – from modern classics to more recently published, some of my favourite books are:

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Lovesong by Alex Miller
The Tiger Wife by Thea Obreht
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Educating Alice by Alice SteinbachMuseum of Innocence
Wanting by Richard Flanagan
Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
People’s Act of Love by James Meak
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Fingersmith by Sarha Waters
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
etc, etc

Which authors have you been especially thrilled to meet?

Meeting authors and listening to author talks at writers’ festivals, bookseller and publisher events, is one of the most rewarding aspects of working in the book industry. I’ve met some remarkable writers and again the list would be too long but if I have to choose just a few, I would mention listening for the first time to Alex Miller at the Sydney Writers Festival, Alain de Botton at the Sydney Opera House, Simon Winchester at an event at Pages & Pages, Hilary Mantel in conversation with Michael Cathcart via video link at the SWF, Richard Flanagan’s speech at the Leading Edge conference in Adelaide in 2013. More recently I was absolutely thrilled and star-stuck meeting George R.R. Martin at HarperCollins Publishers and in September this year I went to an event with Salman Rushdie at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

What are some must-reads over Christmas?

There are so many wonderful books being published this Christmas season; there is truly something for everyone.Amnesia

For fiction lovers, there are new books by some of Australia’s most loved writers – Amnesia by Peter Carey is a satirical exploration of the big issues of our time and our recent history. There is the follow up to the bestselling The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, short stories by Christos Tsiolkas, Merciless Gods, and J.M Coetzee’s Three Stories, a jewel-like novella by Michelle de Kretser, Springtime, to mention a few. And for everyone who hasn’t read it yet, there is the remarkable The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.

International fiction offers a wealth of books to choose from – from Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, to new offerings by Michel Faber (The Book of Strange New Things), Alexander McCall Smith’s latest in the Mma Ramotswe’s adventures The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe and a re-imagining of Emma, Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library, and short story collections by Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood.

I am also looking forward to reading Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud, Miss Carter’s War by Sheila Hancock and First Impression by Charlie Lovett, which as the title suggests promises to delight all Austen fans.

As usual non-fiction covers a variety of subjects and genres – from biographies on the lives of politicians (My Story by Julia Gillard and The Menzies Era by John Howard) and artists (Bill: The Life of William Dobell by Scott Bevan and John Olsen by Darleen Bungey), remarkable true life stories (Walking Free by Dr Munjed Al Muderis and A Bone of Fact by the creator of Mona in Hobart, David Walsh) to TV and sports personality books.

Once Upon an AlphabetA stand out for me is What Days are For by Robert Dessaix – a small but profound book on what makes a meaningful life.

There are also beautiful illustrated books on offer – from gorgeously produced cookbooks (my pick is A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to France by Dee Nolan) to books on art, gardening and interior design – a must-have is Absolutely Beautiful Things by Anna Spiros.

And of course, for children there is plenty of fantastic picture books – my favourites are Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers, In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek, illustrated by Christine Roussey and a gorgeous edition of The Twelve Days of Christmas by Alison Jay. Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell is my pick in junior fiction and Laurinda by Alice Pung is my choice for teen readers.

What is your secret reading pleasure?

I love historical fiction – from literary masterpieces such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, to the genre-busting A Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin (which strictly speaking are fantasy books of course), to historical sagas. I’ve been reading one particular series – The Morland Dynasty books by Cynthia Harold-Eagles since the late 1990’s. It follows the life of an English aristocratic family from the Middle Ages until recent days. I’m looking forward to reading the latest volume #35 over the summer holidays.

I also love reading poetry.

… And did I mention, Jane Austen – there is always a different edition of Pride and Prejudice to re-read.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Galina.Bill

You are very welcome. Thanks for the opportunity!

 

Non-Stop News November: Part I

Click on the image to see the Google advantage in action.
After more than two years of watching their local publishing colleagues get digital, tech giant international competitors eat into their market, and a handful of locals like Booku.com enter the fray, many of Australia’s top independent booksellers are finally, happily, in a position to provide their customers with ebooks … in time for Christmas, too.

It’s great news for the industry and for consumers. The more players there are in the market, the more seriously the publishers will have to be about meeting our demands, by which I mean providing us with the ebooks we want to read, at an appropriate price point, when we want to read them.

The more Australian retail players there are in the ebook market, the more virtual hand-selling of our own authors’ works there will be, and, one would hope as a result, the more Australian authors being published.

The opportunity that indie ebookstores bring to sell Australian – and in specific cases, hyper-local – books to a global market has to be a good for our literary scene too.

Serendipitous meetings with books we’re sure to love are just as much more likely in an online indie as a bricks and mortar in my view. See how long it takes you to find a book you’d like to buy when browsing in Apple’s iBookstore compared to Booku and you’ll see what I mean.

Speaking of multinationals, it intrigues me that while Google had been talking about launching its ebookstore in Australia for more than a year, it chose to go live the day before the first of several independent bricks and mortar Australian booksellers opened their own ebook arms last month.

The search engine behemoth announced the opening of its own ebookstore, and two others in which is partner (with Dymocks – which is separately soon to launch its own publishing arm, D Publishing – and Booktopia), on November 8, several days after the invitations for the November 9 opening of Mosman indie Pages & Pages’ launch (in partnership with Australian social reading tech start-up ReadCloud), had gone out. A coincidence? Perhaps.

Pages & Pages will be followed later this month (or not long after) by fellow ReadCloud partners including Better Read than Dead (of Newtown), Shearer’s (Leichhardt), Abbey’s (Sydney city) and indie chain Berkelouw. ReadCloud says it is working with some 200 bookstores.

Some will sell the previously mentioned Cumulus tablet.

All of them will face a great challenge from Google in that many of their customers will find them via a Google search. Will Google eBooks pop up in those same search results? A quick test suggests yes, it will, though not at the top of the page. Not yet, not on my terminal, anyway. That said, take a look at the image below and see where Google eBooks appears when you search for “eBooks Sydney”.

For more on Google’s plans in Australia and details of the latest Booki.sh-powered indie ebookstore launches, see Part II here.

Cumulus adds colour to the ereader scene

The Cumulus at Pages & Pages.
Started your Christmas shopping yet?

I’ve been wishing my family all had ereaders so that I could give them Booku vouchers, or that I had enough cash stashed away to buy them a Kobo, Sony Reader, Kindle, iPad or the newest kid on the block, the Cumulus.

The Cumulus is a colour tablet based on Google’s Android mobile operating system. It’ll soon be available in a handful of bricks and mortar bookstores, mainly in Sydney. Some of our more cutting-edge outlets, like that of Australian Booksellers Association president Jon Page, Pages & Pages in Mosman, Sydney, have decided to encourage ebook reading rather than hoping the digital revolution will go away.

I had a play around with the Cumulus last week at its very own launch party at Pages & Pages (which coincided with the launch of that retailer’s own ebookstore, powered by Australian social reading start-up ReadCloud).

The Cumulus has some positive selling points: it’s cheap for a colour device at $199, it’s smaller and lighter than the iPad (and not that much heavier than e-ink devices like those from Kindle or Kobo), and given it runs on Android, offers access to plenty of unbookish apps and content as well as ereading. Users can download books from most ebookstores (including Booku.com) and read them on the device, which makes it much more versatile than a locked-in-to-Amazon Kindle. There’s even a camera, though not a very powerful one (1.3 megapixel).

The Cumulus measures 193mm x 115mm x 12.5mm and weighs 380g. The battery lasts for seven hours and takes three hours to fully charge.

But the 7″ capacitive touchscreen frustrated me. No doubt I’ve been spoilt by the super responsive screens Apple’s iGadgets sport.

A year or so ago I reviewed Telstra’s ridiculously named Telstra’s T Touch Tab, or was it Touch T Tab? Not a name that will be remembered as one of the greats.

Cumulus, now there’s a name suited to our cloud tech times.

Anyway, the Telstra tablet was awful. It was heavy, clunky, and featured a strange metal fold out stand and a touchscreen that required extra oomph in each swipe or tap. My mother received a free one with her home broadband bundle a few months later and never even took it out of the box. I read recently that they’ve discontinued the product and was not surprised.

The Cumulus’s screen reminds me a little of that of the T Tab. It was more reactive, but not as sensitive as those of my iPhone or iPad.

I’d always be prepared to pay more for a device with a responsive touchscreen, especially for reading where swiping to turn the page is a fairly regular occurrence.

So as it turns out, I won’t be buying a Cumulus, or a Kindle, for either of my parents this Christmas.

I am still keen to take a look at the Kobo Vox, which is $100 more expensive than the Cumulus but hopefully worth it, and to compare the new e-ink Kobo Touch and latest Sony Reader.

The Vox is due to hit the market here later this month, but the Sony Reader is available now. Sony have lent me one for a week to test. Stay tuned for my review.