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 news.com.au 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.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.
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.
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.