‘Most of Australia’s literary heritage is exhausted’: the fight to save a nation’s lost books | australian pounds

VSconsider the life cycle of the average book. It begins with praise, if the author is very lucky. Readings and publishers’ parties. General cutting. Sofas are often involved. There are rumors of a film adaptation with Eric Bana. Then time passes. The book stops selling and is sold out, sucked from the shore and into the dark, empty ocean of forgotten literature. Copies of it flow from bookstores to second-hand bookstores, and from there to neighborhood op-shops and garage sales, before being finally pulped or dumped in landfills. In rare cases, it will come to rest on the dusty shelves of old booksellers, where it will live, in all likelihood, forever as a graveyard for lost flies.

This is the unfortunate fate of most books, even literary laureates. In fact, of the 62 books that won the Australian Miles Franklin Prize between 1957 and 2019, 23 are currently not available as e-books, 40 are not available as audiobooks, and 10 are not available anywhere, in any format. They are officially sold out. It is something that Untapped: The Australian Literary Heritage Project tries to rectify.

“Untapped is a collaboration between authors, libraries and researchers, and it arose out of the fact that most of Australia’s literary heritage is exhausted. You can’t find it anywhere, ”says project manager Associate Professor Rebecca Giblin of Melbourne Law School at the University of Melbourne. Think about it. If so many Miles Franklin winners are exhausted, you can imagine how insufficient the availability of memoirs, stories, and other local stories must be.

Untapped’s mission is to digitize 200 of Australia’s most important lost books, preserve them for future generations, and make them available through a nationwide network of libraries. They include books such as I’m Not Racist, But… (2007) by Anita Heiss and The Unlucky Australians (1968) by Frank Hardy. “An exciting thing is that all of these books will now be part of the National electronic filing system, ”Says Giblin, referring to the legal obligation for all publishers to provide copies of published works to libraries – a framework that has only recently been extended to electronic publishing. “It means they will be preserved forever. These books will now be available as long as we have libraries. “

To find these books, the Untapped team appealed to Australian book lovers to name “culturally significant” works that were out of print but still copyrighted, leaving them stranded, floating in purgatory of Canada. delivered. A panel of library collections experts narrowed the list down to around 200 titles, and then the project team began the painstaking work of contacting each author and negotiating the rights. Matt Rubinstein of Ligature Press was hired to break down and digitize the physical books.

“It’s bigger than the entire Text Classics list, all at once,” says Giblin. “It’s huge! And it ranges from really nice children’s books to historical books and literary fiction. Each costs around $ 700 to digitize, including proofreading, to bring them up to a library standard. costly and time consuming work.

Visitors to the National Library of Australia, Canberra. The legal deposit regime requires publishers to send a copy of every book to the NLA. Photograph: Alan Porritt / AAP

Untapped has brought to light another big issue facing Australian writers: reversion rights. Most publishing contracts last for the full term of copyright (in Australia it is the author’s life plus 70 years), but publishers rarely make a book available for that term. They own the rights, but they don’t necessarily exploit them.

Many countries deal with this problem by giving authors basic legal protections that allow them to claim their rights – allowing the rights to “revert” to the author – when they are no longer in use, but in Australia, the rights of the author. author are fully governed by the publication. contracts. Giblin says these contracts don’t always protect authors as they should. “We spent 18 months studying half a century of publishing contracts from the archives of the Australian Society of Authors. What we found was a dog’s breakfast: bad writing, a failure to keep up with technological changes, and important protections missing.

Untapped researchers want to understand the economic value of reversion of rights, to see if there is any reason for authors to obtain new protections here in Australia. They are also studying the relationship between library lending and book sales.

“Amazon has told publishers that they shouldn’t license their eBooks to libraries because it’s bad for business,” says Giblin. “But they clearly have a vested interest in removing libraries from the picture in order to be able to dominate the book market, and there has been no data available to test whether these claims are really true. Untapped will change that.

The books digitized by Untapped will appear in public and state libraries across Australia later this year. But the ultimate goal is to expand the project and keep it going for the long haul, cataloging and promoting Australia’s forgotten books for future generations. It is also about building a literary infrastructure that does not yet really exist: helping authors recover their out-of-print titles, get them licensed, digitized and in public libraries, where they will be marketed and promoted at scale. national.

“We desperately need to find new ways to make creatives pay,” says Giblin. “The tragic reality of independent publishing in Australia is that hardly anyone is making any money. We need to find new markets and new prize pools if we are to keep our stories told. “


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