International Fiction Bestsellers

The Deal Down Under
‘Books Alive’ in Australia, Fresh French in Holland, And a Greco-Dickensian Fable

Some call it preaching to the choir, but preliminary results are in on Australia’s inaugural two-week, federally-funded, book-buying bonanza called Books Alive, which is aimed at luring “occasional, lapsed, and young readers” back into the literary fold with a buy-one-get-one-for-real-cheap offer. (It also entices those 87% of Aussies who read for pleasure at least once a week to get in on the goods — as you’ll see from this month’s Australian bestseller list.) Here’s the deal: Customers who bought a book from participating retailers during the two-week period beginning August 2 received one of six “Books Alive” branded books (which are proven strong sellers picked by a panel of retailers, government types, publishers, and Project Director Brett Osmond) at a cost of only A$5 — about $3.25. Informed by similar programs including Holland’s Book Week (see PT, 8/02), as well as market research by AC Nielsen and a gaggle of other industry experts, the panel selected the following titles for wall-to-wall promotion: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks; An Anzac’s Story by Roy Kyle, introduced and edited by Bryce Courtenay; Anna Fienberg’s Tashi and Tashi & the Giant (juv. — published in one volume); Toad Heaven (juv.) by Morris Gleitzman; Sally Morgan’s My Place; and Ice Station by Matthew Reilly.

Books were sold to retailers (over 90% of which eagerly participated), in addition to schools and book clubs, and orders were tallied up to decide the print runs. According to Robert Sessions, Publishing Director of Penguin Books Australia, the print run for Kyle’s book, a recollection of a WWI soldier and the only new title in the group, was 80,000 copies. “Penguin ‘sacrificed’ this new book which was to be an original hardback for 2003,” Sessions tells PT. “The Government subsidised both Penguin and the authors for lost profit, and the book became part of the campaign and did well. We will then go on to publish our book as a hardcover (but fewer numbers) next year.” The program carries a budget of A$8 million to spend over four years (as part of a A$240m Book Industry Assistance Plan via the Australia Council), spent both in advertising the campaign and in subsidising the printing of the special edition; publishers and authors receive a “very small margin/royalty” on the titles, which are in effect “donated” to the campaign by publishers and authors. With part of its budget, the panel orchestrated a publicity blitz targeting an estimated 86% of all adult Australians with a Books Alive message eight or more times over the two-week campaign. Add to that six concurrent author tours through ten cities and regional centers, plus national review attention (even though five of the six books were not new releases), and it is no surprise that the initiative has drawn widespread notice. “At the largest event, 2,000 senior school children packed Melbourne Town Hall to hear each writer speak about their craft,” marvels Books Alive Publicist Andy Palmer. Publishers are also seeing a nice lift from the festivities. “We are very pleased with the support of the campaign from the buying public,” Osmond reports. “Initial figures indicate that we increased unit book sales by around 14% (excluding Books Alive titles) over the same period in 2002.” With such gung-ho government support for literature, is it any wonder Australia is one of the most literate countries in the world?

Also the talk of the land down under are two of Shane Maloney’s mystery novels, Stiff and The Brush-Off, which are slated to be made into 90-minute television movies by the Seven Network in 2004. The novels feature thirty-something single father and hapless sleuth Murray Whelan, who inadvertently solves mysteries by making a colossal mess of every investigation. The “infamous and irresistible” Whelan will be played by David Wenham (Lord of the Rings, Moulin Rouge); Stiff will be directed by John Clarke, and The Brush-Off by Sam Neill. “Shane Maloney writes like an angel, always in control of his plot and pace,” as Ian Rankin puts it. “Not that many readers will notice this: they’ll be too busy laughing.” The series has been published in the US (Arcade), UK (Canongate), France (Masque), Germany (Diogenes), Japan (Bungei Shunju), and Finland (Otava). US rights to Maloney’s novel Something Fishy, however, are still available from Michael Heyward of Text in Australia.

As it happens, Australia isn’t the only nation stirring up a book promo this month, as Nicci French grabs the top two spots in Holland with two titles published there exclusively. The People Who Went Away was written by Sean & Nicci French at the request of publisher Chris Herschdorfer of Ambo/Anthos. “We’ve published it as a short story at a low price point (about $2.50) as a promotional book to help carry one of our own marketing campaigns,” Herschdorfer tells PT. Sales have topped 140,000, and rights are available from ILA in London. The other title, Secret Smile, will be published in paperback in the UK by Michael Joseph in March 2004. (Also in Holland, we’re duty bound to alert you that those Prisma dictionaries are back on the radar screen as Dutch students scurry back to class. They comprise 7 of the top 15 titles, but we’ve condensed the list to include more trade titles.)

PT’s former bestseller list researcher Foteini Tsigarida checks in from Greece, where Soti Triantafillou’s latest “Dickensian” novel Century is raising eyebrows this month. Written in the tradition of novels “packed with characters from every point of the social spectrum,” Century describes the wealth and squalor of Victorian London, focusing on a poor girl from Bermondsey who falls in love with a homosexual nobleman, but marries a baronet who ditches genteel life to be a working-class leader. Triantafillou has been praised as “a multi-faceted writer” moving with panache “from the city where she was born to metropolitan cities throughout the world, from rock and roll to the ‘heavy artillery’ of world literature.” The book has sold 35,000 copies, and all foreign rights are currently available. The author’s previous novels have been published in Germany (Zsolnay), Israel (Carta), and a Catalan edition (1984). Contact Anna Pataki at Patakis.

As a final note, this month we’re pleased to debut our Czech Republic bestseller list. Stay tuned for a full report — including a briefing on Czech market trends, a parallel look at the Slovak Republic, and word of a “new meteor in the Czech literary skies” — coming up next month.