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Intro

Executive Summary

The sector

The department engaged Positive Solutions to undertake a review of the writing sector in Western Australia (WA), the objective being to identify current challenges, strengths and opportunities, and examine strategies and possible future directions for the sector. The department noted in its brief to the consultants for this Review a decline in the number of WA writers, citing Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data indicating a 9% reduction since 2006-2011. It is the department’s wish to stem this decline as far as possible.

WA has a history of significant achievement in Australian literature. Amongst others, writers include Randolph Stow (Miles Franklin winner), Sally Morgan (Prime Minister’s Award winner), Tim Winton (four-time Miles Franklin winner), Kim Scott (two-time Miles Franklin winner), Gail Jones (ALS Gold Medal winner), and other major writers and prize winners.

There are at least six publishers based in WA – Fremantle Press, Magabala Books, Margaret River Press, UWA Publishing, Hesperian Press and Gestalt Publishing. There is a range of other organisations which provide support services for writers, including professional development activities – from Playwriting Australia and the Fellowship of Australian Writers to the Literature Centre and writingWA, the peak body for writing and associated activities in WA. There are also three community-based writers’ centres and, throughout WA, there are 231 public libraries1 which provide a nexus for writers and readers in a geographically challenging state.

There is a strong regional literary festival culture in regional WA – often initiated or supported by the public library. Geraldton, Kununurra, Avon Valley, Broome, Margaret River and Mandurah Festivals are all initiatives of, or have strong links with, their public libraries, and support from the department provided via writingWA.

Funding

Grant programs for the writing sector in WA are provided by the Department of Culture and the Arts and managed by writingWA. Aside from small fluctuations due to application numbers there has been a sustained overall level of support for writers and writing organisations. For the five year period from 2011 to 2016 there has been an overall increase of 25.9 per cent of funding provided to individuals and organisations in the writing sector. In 2015-16 the department funding for literature totalled $1.17m.

Approximately half of funds for writing are currently directed to two WA publishers; and over a third is directed to other facilitative organisations in the sector. The proportion of funding devoted to publishers is much higher than occurs interstate. Reporting from seven key writing organisations funded by the department indicated in the 2015 reporting period that:

They were funded by the department to a total of $1.27 million (core and additional activities).

  • From this department funding they levered an additional $3.43 million in income from other sources.
  • This represents a leverage of $2.69 for every $1 of department support.
  • This additional income included $1.57 million in earned income, or 33 per cent of their overall income.
  • The organisations undertook nearly 900 activities, engaging over 300,000 participants.

In addition to its support to writers and writing organsations, Government support for the sector is also manifested through its investment in the State Library of Western Australia and Screenwest.

Development

From a survey undertaken for this study it is evident that the most important developmental support for writers had been personal networks of contacts, peer review and peer support, writers’ groups and access to libraries or museums. Residencies and fellowships had ranked very highly in individual interviews conducted for this consultancy; however, they did not rate highly in importance in this survey, largely because a significant proportion had not had access to these. The most important relationships writers surveyed have within the sector are with publishers, writers’ festivals and libraries (68% had accessed public libraries and 55% SLWA).

Many said that they needed a better understanding of business management, marketing and legal issues. Residencies, art flight grants, and funding that provides the time to write were mentioned frequently.

The majority of consultees felt that in its current form the WA Premier’s Book Award was ineffective, and delivered few benefits to WA writers; either it should be reconfigured or the money spent elsewhere on sectoral development (however, a significant number also said it was vital to retain and reconfigure).

In framing initiatives that will grow and sustain the writing sector, the following issues arising from the research and consultation process have also influenced the consultants’ advice.

  • Market development is a critical issue for everyone working in this sector in Australia, and one which WA needs to address with some urgency. WA’s isolation from decision-makers and peer-groups highlights this. 
  • Proximity to Asia offers a significant opportunity for WA writers (and to the creative industries in WA more generally).
  • Publishers, under market pressures, are becoming more conservative and not building writers’ careers in the way that many have previously.
  • Collaboration between allied and sometimes competing parties, such as publishers, is an emerging model in Australia and internationally. With the disruption of internet and digital technologies there is a greater need for publishers to cooperate and negotiate with other firms, including competitors, or others such as games, software and media companies in order to create new products.
  • Sales opportunities in the digital marketplace do not fundamentally alter the economics of publishing but have provided more opportunities for scholarly publishers.
  • Arts financing models in other jurisdictions and overseas are demonstrating new approaches to resourcing and program delivery (further detailed provided in section 3.5).

Recommendations

In a number of cases the department’s role will be to facilitate implementation by other agencies rather than to directly organise from within the department. This does, however, imply a proactive and catalytic industry engagement role, rather than a responsive funder role alone.

This review reflects the department’s wish to ensure that its policy and program priorities are effective in supporting the writing sector. Accordingly, it is recommended that the department prepare a brief statement of sector development intentions and priorities, and provide this as a guide to individual and organisational applicants.

The 24 recommendations are clustered under creative and market development.

Creative development

  • Supporting creative practice
  • Career development

Market development

  • Promoting WA writers
  • International presence
  • Promoting a strong reading culture
  • Coordinate support agencies
  • Services delivery mechanism
  • Measuring progress
The recommendations have also been re-presented in relation to their impact upon writers at different stages of their career development.


Footnote

  1. Australian Government (2016), data.gov.au, retrieved from https://data.gov.au/dataset/western-australia-public-library- network/resource/7368683f-c5c6-41f7-9175-5577aea029c2
Page reviewed 25 June 2019