Overview of the Australian Book Market

With a growing population now of 24.5 million, Australia enjoys a respected global reputation. Amongst the world’s leading economies and recession free for over 25 years, it is a politically stable, free market democracy with year-on-year economic growth in 2016 of 2.4%, inflation of 1.5%, and average weekly earnings of $1164. While consumer confidence is declining somewhat, mainly as unemployment (currently 5.4%), underemployment, and inequality rise, living standards and well-being are generally considered amongst the highest in the world.

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing excerpts of our market guide, Selling Canadian Books in Australia, prepared by market expert Michael Webster. In today’s post, we give an overview of the Australian publishing market.

Market Size and Representation

Australian publishers are represented by two organizations—the larger and longer established Australian Publishers Association (APA) and the Small Press Network (SPN). As well as representing all the major trade, education, journal, and digital publishers, the APA undertakes extensive lobbying, research, and advocacy for the industry. It also provides its members with access to TitlePage, which provides, free of charge, current price, availability, and stock information for print books and ebooks from more than 140 publishers and distributors to 3,000 booksellers and librarians. Publisher and distributor members of the APA can become part of TitlePage by paying a low-cost annual subscription based on their turnover and the number of titles they wish to list. A searchable list of publisher members (children’s, scholarly and journals, schools, tertiary and professional, and trade) is available on the APA’s website.

The alternative trade association, the Small Press Network, is mainly concerned with assisting new and emerging publishers to develop their businesses, especially through its industry advice and its annual Independent Publishing Conference (IPC), the only publishing conference held in Australia.

Based on APA business statistics for 2016, all sectors of the book industry remain profitable, especially school and tertiary where margins have been increasing as over-heads drop. Trade ebook sales have plateaued at around 20% for adult books and 3% for children’s/young adult titles, whereas ebooks now represent 14% of sales in the secondary school market with 34% of schools purchasing ebooks in 2015 compared to 28% in 2013. Digital subscriptions—mainly from overseas suppliers—continue to dominate the tertiary sector. EPUB is still the standard for ebook production with EPUB3 the specification most commonly used.

Sales of Australian print production (including co-editions) represented 36% of total revenue in the trade sector, 70% in the school sector, and 35% in the tertiary sector.

While return rates have been declining over the years, they are still around 15% for trade publishers (47% of returns are destroyed, rather than returned to stock), well above those for children’s titles.

Publishing output

In 2016, 4,247 different publishing entities in Australia produced 22,144 new titles (print and digital, all categories), a 10.8% increase over 2015’s output, but a decline from the record 28,234 published in 2013 when so many backlist titles were converted and issued as ebooks. Of the 2016 output, 26 companies published over 100 titles, 91 produced 20–99 titles each, and 295 published 6–29 titles. At the other end of the scale, 1,356 published between 2–5 titles and 2,479 released only one title in the year, reflecting the growth of self- and new publishers.


Formed in 2003, the Australian Literary Agents’ Association (ALAA) represents the country’s agents, from the oldest and largest, Curtis Brown, to small, specialized agencies focused on specific genres. While there are three or four agents who are not members, membership in ALAA brings credibility. This is because of its code of practice and conditions of membership, which include that members must have been in the business for three years representing authors, or have been responsible for the execution of a minimum of ten contracts. Agents who have earned over $250,000 in commission in a two-year period also qualify for ALAA membership.

For small to medium Canadian publishers wishing to sell Australian rights to their works, it is likely that interested Australian publishers/agents will insist on including New Zealand in any exclusive territory agreement, will anticipate an initial print run of 3000–5000 copies, will offer a modest advance (average $3000–$5000), and pay a royalty of 7.5%–10% of the Australian recommended retail price (less GST) for books and 25% of net receipts for eBook sales.

Australian publishers wishing to sell rights to Canadian publishers would normally anticipate initial print runs of between 1000–5000 copies, an advance between $2000–$5000 (70% going to the author), and a minimum royalty of 10% of the publishers’ net receipts. It is likely that audio rights will also be withheld. Agents interviewed for this paper report that US publishers increasingly insist that Canadian rights be bundled with US rights, especially for higher profile authors and lists. That is not to say that rights cannot be separated (as they so often already are) but it is worth noting this trend.

All those spoken to agree that personal contact with Australian publishers and agents is essential to building good rapport and gaining market knowledge. This is best done by personal visits to Australia or contact with Australian publishers and agents at international book fairs with pre-arranged meetings scheduled. It was also mentioned that even if an agreement to buy/sell rights is negotiated between individual publishers, it is likely that both parties will wish to have agents involved, whose cut will be 10%–15% of earnings.


With around 3,000 members both in Australia and overseas, the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) is the professional association for those who write or illustrate for publication, although it is fair to say that while ASA membership is high, those involved in educational publishing (mainly teachers) are under-represented. Apart from advocating for its members with publishers and government, the ASA recommends minimum contract terms and conditions that authors should accept from publishers, which are often resisted by publishers. A revised “draft contract” is currently being prepared for its members.

In February 2015, to better understand the impact that technological changes are having on authors, over 1,000 Australian book authors were surveyed online by researchers from Macquarie University and the results were published in October 2015. The results show that average total income for authors in Australia, including all sources, was $62,000 while the average income derived from practicing as an author only was $12,900.


J. K. Rowling took two of the Top 10 bestselling spots in 2016 with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the Fantastic Beasts Screenplay between them selling 550,000 copies for $14.8 million. Australian authors in the Top 10 (all categories) accounted for 32% of bookshop sales (by value) with Andy Griffith and Terry Denton (315,000 copies of The 78-Storey Treehouse), Jimmy Barnes (119,000 copies of Working Class Boy), Liane Moriarty (104,000 copies of The Husband’s Secret), and Matthew Reilly (103,000 copies of The Four Legendary Kingdoms).

While non-fiction’s share of the market declined in 2016 as sales of adult colouring books stalled, the children’s/young adult share increased with strong growth in higher price points, especially $19.99–$24.00.

Market Share — Local vs. Imports

When comparing local and imported titles, it should be noted that an “Australian” title is one with an Australian ISBN and so includes titles originally published overseas and then released on the Australian market by an Australian publisher. This often includes high volume, mass market titles printed locally, as well as adaptations. It is generally accepted that the output of totally Australian-created and -published titles is closer to 10,000 per year across all genres.

Reading Trends

The reputation Australians have as avid readers was borne out by the joint Australia Council for the Arts/Macquarie University survey of reading habits conducted in 2016. Based on over 3000 interviews, the results showed that, on average, Australians spend about seven hours reading books each week, slightly less than five years ago, and 70% of the time spent reading is for pleasure, as distinct from work-related reading. Men are less likely to be readers than women and just 8% of the population can be considered non-readers (i.e., they had not read a whole book or even part of a book in the preceding 12 months).

Thrillers continue to be the most popular category in fiction (48.5%), while in non- fiction, autobiography/biography/memoir was the most popular (45%). Other popular fiction categories included historical, contemporary/general fiction, science fiction, and romance.

Ninety percent of respondents read print books and just over half said they read ebooks “often or sometimes.” Only 12% listen to audiobooks, with almost three-quarters saying that they never do so. For those who do read ebooks, iPads or tablets are more popular than dedicated e-reading devices.

Want to find out more about the Australian book market and Australian readers? Download your copy of our market guide today!


01/16/2019 | Export, Market Guides