Some of the covers of the Untapped books, designed by Matt Rubinstein of our publishing partner

Followers of the Author’s Interest project may remember that back in November 2020 we unveiled an exciting new collaboration: Untapped, the Australian Literary Heritage Project. This initiative, in partnership with the Australian Society of Authors and public libraries all over the country, was a response to the reality that most of Australia’s literary heritage is out of print. That includes important books by women and first nations writers, critical local stories, histories and memoirs, and winners of our most glittering literary prizes.

Working with collections experts from public libraries nationwide, we selected 161 culturally important out-of-print titles, negotiated with their authors to secure the rights, digitised them, and republished them as ebooks. You can explore the full collection on the Untapped website, but it includes titles from some of Australia’s best-known and most beloved authors, including Anita Heiss, Carmel Bird, Garry Disher, Frank Hardy and Thea Astley, including six former winners of the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

Our digitisation work is now complete, and since December, books in the Untapped collection have been available to borrow from public libraries, and for purchase as ebooks (more info about accessing the collection here).

As well as rescuing lost books and creating a new revenue source for participating authors, the Untapped initiative is supporting important new research.

Our Author’s Interest Project research has previously shown that out of print clauses in publishing contracts can be woefully inadequate. That suggests there may be a case for Australian writers to be given minimum, baseline legal rights to recover copyrights to their books at least in situations when they are are no longer being meaningfully exploited, like those that already exist in various other countries.

The State Library of Western Australia letting locals know about the Untapped collection

However, support for that kind of law reform requires proof that those rights are valuable, and of interest to both authors and the broader public. To assess whether that’s the case, our research team will be analysing use of the titles, including the number of times they’re bought or borrowed, and new economic opportunities that emerge for their writers as a result of the project. We’ll also be investigating the relationship between library loans and book sales, as well as the economic value of library book promotion. There are all kinds of exciting library-led initiatives to publicise the collection, including a 40 metre decal wrapping around the State Library of Western Australia (pictured above). This will help inform ongoing discussions between publishers and libraries about when and on what terms ebooks should be licensed to libraries, and help policymakers decide whether further regulation in this space is necessary.

We will be collecting our data throughout 2022, and results and outputs will be posted to this page as they become available in 2023. For questions about the research aspects of the project, contact Professor Rebecca Giblin (project director) or Dr Paul Crosby (lead cultural economist). For commercialisation or any other enquiries, see Untapped’s main contacts page.

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