Last week at QWC‘s Meet the Publishers industry seminar, Bernadette Foley of Hachette Livre Australia confirmed what I’d suspected for a while, and that is that Australian publishers are still largely unfamiliar with the opportunities (some would say imperatives) in digital publishing. When I say digital publishing, I’m not just talking about e-books. I’m talking about all aspects of the publishig value chain which might be affected or improved with digital initiatives. These might include e-books, but they also include book marketing and author promotion, distribution, community and brand building and product development (ie. other forms of digital content like audio books and mobile content) All the things Brent Lewis of Harlequin described as technology enablers in his presentation to the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York earlier this year.

The tide is definitely turning, and Bernadette confirmed this when she spoke of the fascinating panels she attended at Sydney Writers Festival last week. Clearly some Australian publishers are taking steps to explore these opportunities, some tentatively, and some with confidence. Yet I worry that these changes aren’t taking place fast enough for authors.

Why worry at all? After all, what will happen to authors if the Australian publishing industry takes its sweet time in embracing and exploiting technology enablers. For one thing, despite my optimism, the ability of authors to commercialise their writing will be tied to publishers for a while to come. There are opportunities even now for writers to go direct to audiences through blogs, podcasts, e-books, alternative reality games, self-publishing and other channels. Some of these blogs, podcasts and self-publishing ventures have paid off in spades. But, by and large, authors still depend on publishers to help them refine, distribute and market their content, and the distribution/marketing/branding side of the publishing business is the side publishers can dominate.

Perhaps Australian authors and publishers need their own Tools of Change for Publishing conference, a watershed event to create energy and momentum that will carry us forward… together.