Monday, January 26, 2009

The Australian Problem

The Australian publishing and bookselling community can't seem to decide whether it wants or doesn't want protectionism. Peter Donoughue takes issue with the Australian Booksellers Association's decision to back track on their long standing support of abolition of the 30/90 rule.
Now the ABA comes along and AGREES with them! It says, yes, you're right, our members are so stupid that they would at every opportunity act against their commercial interests and, as a by-product, destroy local literary culture! No matter how reasonable the price of the local edition, no matter how fair the trading terms from the local publisher, no matter how good the distribution and customer care, no matter how beneficial to sales the publisher's marketing and publicity efforts, no matter the excellent personal service from the sales reps, no matter the impossibility of getting anywhere near the same deal from overseas wholesalers like Baker and Taylor.... we're gonna buy around, just because we can!

I'd call that stabbing yourself in the front!
Earlier in the month, the Sydney Morning Herald tried to explain the situation:

Why is this relevant to us in Australia? The Productivity Commission is undertaking an inquiry into how books are sold in Australia. We have a separate copyright territory. If a book is written, designed, edited and published by Australians - as is about $900 million worth of books sold in Australia annually - an overseas publisher cannot sell an edition of it here. If it is produced overseas, Australian publishers must publish it here within 30 days of its foreign release, or it can be "parallel-imported" to Australia. If it is out of stock, the publisher has 90 days to replenish it. This "use it or lose it" principle is commonly called the 30/90 rule.

Opponents of this say it gives us higher prices. Last month Bob Carr wrote in The Australian that price was "the only question before the Productivity Commission" and importation should be freed so more households could have "brimming bookshelves".

Cheaper books, higher literacy. The argument seems attractive. But it rests on a shaky assumption and a lack of consideration of the consequence.

I think I know where the frustration lies. The next title in Steig Larrson's trilogy is has been available in the UK since early January but won't be out here until summer. I can however order it from WTF?

1 comment:

Kate Eltham said...

Hi Michael, that frustration is entirely valid and I think Australian publishers can be prodded to be more competitive both on release dates and pricing. It's undeniable that Australia's book market is among the most expensive in the world. But I'm doubtful that the price of books is being kept artifically high by a ban on parallel imports. At it's core Australia is a tiny market. We've only 20 million people, and the book buying percentage of that is maybe half. The economies of scale that can be achieved in the US, UK and Germany, especially in the mass market formats, will never be possible here. Add on GST, and for imports, the cost of freight, handling, reporting and risk of taking firm sale titles from overseas distributors, consumers will always pay more in Australia whether parallel imports are allowed or not. So the question to answer is, will copyright reform on parallel imports achieve cheaper books for Australian consumers and is there a better solution?

I think the Australian Booksellers Association's submission to the Productivity Commission proposes a good middle ground solution which doesn't dissolve Australia as a separate rights territory (at least as enshrined in legislation, as opposed to what can be achieved in individual contracts) Their submission is here:

Best wishes,