Friday, May 08, 2009

Publishing protectionalism - let's keep it

There has been a bit of debate in Australia recently about proposed changes to the book import restrictions over here, and its got me a bit hot under the collar. I wanted to let you all know about the debate (because many of my friends outside of the literary world haven't even heard of it) and tell you my thoughts (because thats the point of my blog).

So; the facts (stolen from because they put it so clearly):

Currently, if a book is published in Australia within 30 days of its release overseas, booksellers cannot import potentially cheaper versions.

In its draft report, the Productivity Commission recommends importation of foreign books should be allowed 12 months after a title is first published in Australia.

It proposes that this arrangement be reviewed in five years.
Now I have to acknowledge that I have complained on numerous occasions that books out here are so much more expensive than back home. The protectionalist environment in which Australian publishers have been allowed to do business has kept book prices (on both new and older books) high. It is very usual to purchase for AU$25 a paperback fiction book which clearly states on the back that its RRP is 7.99 stirling (excuse lack of pound sign on this foreign keyboard...). A quick look on a currency converter shows that 8 quid is closer to $16.

So it may come as a surprise to many that I am in strong opposition to these proposed changes. Why?

1) Those in support of the changes are saying classic lines like "Children growing up in poorer households don't own many books as the cost is prohibitive". In response I would like to suggest that households where reading is important can access all the literature they can desire - FOR FREE - from their local library. I would also be bold enough to suggest that many households that are book free are in no way influenced by the cost of books. They simply wouldn't buy them anyway - its not a priority for many.

2) Those who know me will know I thoroughly dislike the constant Americanisation of English speaking societies. Television is already flooded with 'Two and a Half Men" (which is the worst thing to happen to television EVER). The cinemas are practically a Hollywood monopoly. Opening the Australian book market to cheap imports from the US (and even the UK) will further dilute Australian culture. Why buy a local author for your beach read this summer when a cheap American book published by an American publishing house and written by an American author costs half the price? We will also be subjected to American spellings and words; humor, glamorized, faucet, sidewalk. For goodness' sake, in the US the first Harry Potter book is called the Sorcerer's Stone because they don't have (or understand?) the word philosopher!! Australia's literary selection will be just as threatened by UK imports on the economics/culture... although spelling is less of a problem.

3) I was astounded about a month after arriving in Sydney to see second hand books selling at a market. Selling for between $5 and $10 dollars for a paperback. The surprise was because I had realised at my own recent UK car boot sales that second hand books don't even fetch a quid in the UK. They have become disposable because they are so cheap. Second hand book shops in the UK are becoming a rarity and my recently discovered gem in Bondi - a second hand bookshop/cafe called Gertrude & Alice - is just one of hundreds of businesses in Australia that benefit from a healthy market (and return) for second hand books. Lower the value of the product when it is new and you practically wipe out the market for trading it second hand.

Just to add some context; the UK and the US have their own book import restrictions, limiting threats to their own local publishers. Australia's are already less protectionalist than theirs - why should it lower them more? The publishing industry in Australia is thriving - and I want to see it stay that way.


Nic said...

I think you will find that other than the rare case of Australian authors being published in Australia the vast majority of books on sale here already are imports. Any book with prices in US$ or UK£ are books meant for those markets imported and sold here.

Australian culture is already being 'diluted' by the import of these books already, especially as the vast majority of books written and for sale in English are sourced from the UK or USA.

This means, therefore, that you are arguing for the continuation of Australian protectionism on consumer pricing. Australia is one of the most protectionist societies I have lived in creating artificially high prices and sub-standard quality and customer service.

If book stores were allowed, from day 1, to acquire their stock for cheaper prices abroad then why not let them? This would not effect Australian writers one bit as they are still negotiating a publishing deal in Australia with an Australian publisher.

We are now, like it or not, in a global market. People are buying their entertainment, books, music, films etc from all over the world. The younger generation and more technically savvy will use the technology at their fingertips to purchase said entertainment from the cheapest location. If Australian publishers (and other businesses here) do not wake up to this soon they will go out of business due to their unwillingness to compete.

Derek Austin said...

Check out the Kindle. This business model isn't available outside North America because of the division of English publishing rights between North America and the obsolete British Empire. It offers affordability, book portability and the opportunity for authors to easily self-publish. Why shouldn't Australians benefit from an open market that brings more choices?

Em's mum said...

'Sterling' Em. Stirling was the christian name of a famous racing driver.
Sorry, I just can't help it!
.....and you brought up the subject of spelling.

Kitty said...

There was a similar outcry from the music industry when CD imports were deregulated. But as it turns out, it's not parallel imports but downloads that have proved the death knell for the CD biz. Perhaps book publishers should be more concerned about e-books and other new technology like the Sony Reader?

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