Australian Book Review, as you may well know, is a monthly magazine featuring lengthy, considered book reviews plus poetry and essays (and soon fiction). It is 50 years old this year. Today they’re launching their Online Edition, which is an enhanced version of the magazine accessible to subscribers.
ABR OE can be read on any device with web-browsing capabilities, and the folks at ABR are adamant that it will not jeopardise the print version of the magazine. Instead, they hope to reach new markets and generate useful revenue. Single issues (one month access) will be available as well as an annual subscription. Back issues will also be available to subscribers, and they’re working on adding some video content and a comments section.
I was lucky enough to have advance access to ABR OE and the April edition. The format is easy: you can choose articles from the main menu, or you can click forward and read one after another. I thought the font was a bit small, and then I discovered text + – buttons at the very top of the page. I was having problems with my computer and read most of it on my iPhone, which was agreeable. iPad reading would probably be ideal.
I didn’t get through all of the issue over the weekend, but highlights include Robert Aldrich’s review of Ian Coller’s Arab France, Brenda Niall’s review of Helen Hodgman’s Blue Skies and Lucy Sussex’s personal tribute to Hazel Rowley. It’s great to see that, though the general focus is on new books, ABR does cover books that are slightly older or have been missed. It’s probably the publication that gives the most comprehensive coverage, too, of nonfiction and history books, and books on literary studies. In this issue there are also reviews of books on cooking, philosophy, sport, poetry, music, law, society and television. Some children’s and young adult books are touched on.
It’s expensive in comparison to other quality content online ($50 for a year or $8 an issue), but it has to be in order to not undermine the print product, as they’ve said is the case. Perhaps it will take more online magazines being priced in this range to ensure the writers and editors are being continually paid what they’re worth in terms of the time and attention put into the content. These are the kinds of reviews where the reviewer (often an academic) is expected to delve into the author’s backlist, and to familiarise themselves with the context of the book and/or its subject. I think the content is consistently good enough to warrant the price tag, and I think people will pay it, but it’s possible it will still be the people who are already aware of the magazine and what it does. Perhaps a one-off discount offer down the track will aid circulation further (perhaps to student and overseas readers).
I’m glad that ABR’s current and back-issues are now available at the click of a mouse. Head to the ABR website if you’d like to check it out.