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Kathy Keele Addresses Digital Publishing Symposium

Speeches and Opinions
Feb 11, 2010

Kathy Keele, the CEO of the Australia Council for the Arts, addressed The Digital Revolution: Publishing in the 21st Century symposium – a landmark two-city event hosting discussions about the impact and opportunities of digital publishing. Kathy’s address to the symposium on 17 February 2010 focused on the importance of digital mediums, and welcomed the participants to the event.

Good morning. And welcome everyone to this timely and important symposium on digital technology and the Australian publishing industry … and the ways our readers are now engaging with books.

I’m Kathy Keele and I’m the CEO of the Australia Council for the Arts, which is the Federal Government’s arts funding and advisory body.

I acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional owners of this land. Here at the National Maritime Museum, about the maritime arrival of so many Australians before us, we are at a highly appropriate and magnificent place to offer this acknowledgement of the traditional owners.

Together with the Australian Publishers Association, our partners on this symposium … a warm welcome to all of our speakers and in particular our international guests.

Richard Charkin joins us, from Bloomsbury Publishing, and Stephen Page from Faber and Faber, both from London; and Michael Tamblyn comes to us with all his consumer expertise from Kobo Inc in Canada.

Welcome gentlemen.

Our Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett, is sorry he can’t be here. He has, I know, a keen interest in how digital mediums can build new access to the arts.

Senator Kim Carr, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research opened the first of this two part Symposium on Monday morning, in Melbourne. He used the opportunity to announce that the Government is establishing a new Book Industry Strategy Group to help the book industry meet the challenges of increased online book sales; and grasp the opportunities presented by the emerging ebook market.

Senator Carr’s announcement underlines how important it is that we hold this discussion now so I’m extremely pleased to see such a good turn out today. In fact, both days in both cities have completely sold out, and some 93 organisations are represented. It’s great to see everyone publishers, editors, booksellers, literary agents, libraries and our key industry stakeholders all here in one room.

With the APA, the Australia Council has been working to engage the Australian publishing industry with digital technology for some years now. The way the Australian public explores and adapts to digital in an arts sense is a priority for the Australia Council.

We recognise that the whole arts sector must understand digital platforms; and the way audiences will interact with, participate in, and consume art in the future.  And we’ve developed a range of initiatives, such as this symposium, to support the sector to deal with these opportunities.

A year ago, the Australia Council partnered with the APA to deliver digital publishing workshops for 30 small and medium sized publishers. Following this, we recognised that a larger event was needed one for the entire industry.  With the APA, we’ve been planning this symposium since then.

But the program has been put together by the industry so it’s very much your symposium.  Indeed some key people from the publishing industry have worked tirelessly to create this event.

Susan Hawthorne, Anna Maguire, Victoria Nash and Elizabeth Weiss all deserve great thanks for the work they’ve put in. They’re on the program today, so we’ll learn yet more from them later in the day. Thanks also to Dee Read and Bruce Powell from the APA, and Nicola Evans and Lucy Byrne from the Literature Board of the Australia Council. This symposium is a result of their hard work. Also here today from the Australia Council is the Director of Literature Susan Hayes.

Publishers in the US, the UK and other countries have already realised the significance of e-publishing and invested in digital technology. Anecdotally, we’ve heard that sales of e-books now constitute about 5 to 6% of the book market in the US. And there’s demand here too.

Like many Australian consumers I excitedly opened my Kindle recently, ready to embrace this brave new world of e-books. But I have to say my excitement dropped …once I realised that there wasn’t yet a great deal of Australian books out there. But looking out to this gathering of people, both today and in Melbourne on Monday, I’m feeling excited again about my Kindle!  I can see that it is going to happen in Australia.

So that’s why we’re here today. The industry in Australia has undergone some serious scrutiny lately, as technology changes the way in which we write and create books, the way in which we publish books,  the way we are reading, the issue of digital rights, and the massive appeal of online buying.

You’ll hear today from publishers who have already embarked on e-publishing. You’ll hear what’s happening internationally and whether digital publishing has made any significant difference to business models across the industry. You’ll also hear from Australian publishers who have already made in-roads and, very importantly, you’ll hear about readers and what they’re doing.


On behalf of the APA and the Australia Council, I welcome you all. May you have a searching and rewarding day.