The Current Threat to Australian Book Publishing
Have you heard about what’s happening behind the scenes in the Book Industry at the moment? No? Well, the Australian Booksellers Association, the Australian Publishers Association and the Australian Society of Authors have joined in chorus to voice their concerns at proposals made to the government by the Productivity Commission about Parallel Importation Restrictions in Australia.
We have a thriving local publishing industry – local writing, local publishing, local bricks-and-mortar bookselling.
But this may be put at risk by the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to remove the PIRs in Australia and allow books to be sourced from anywhere in the world.
They believe that this could possibly lead to lower prices for consumers, but what is the real cost?
Currently, the Parallel Importation Restrictions (the Copyright Act 1968) work like this:
Our local publishers buy the rights to sell particular books in our country (or ‘market’). If they supply these to booksellers within a short space of time (agreed by most to be 14 days) of their overseas release then we, as booksellers, must only stock their edition of the book. As a consumer you can purchase your book online from anywhere in the world. And indeed, you can order a single copy of any edition from us, and, if we can source it, we will supply it for you. But publishers pay for the right to distribute particular titles here and we must abide by their right to sell it. Sounds restrictive? Not at all. Because what that means is that if publishers want to retain their rights they must bring it in on time or forfeit the rights and the title becomes ‘open market’ – we can get it from anywhere.
But it’s in everyone’s best interests for Australian publishers to make these books available and for us – and you – to buy it from them, because when we do, it means that money is going back into our local industry, paying for the publishers to support local publishing and Australian voices, ideas and culture.
But not everyone thinks this way. In an open market some with big buying power will choose to sell the cheapest editions of some books. You may be buying a book by an Australian author that has been edited for an American audience, with Americanised spelling included, and Australian terminologies and flavour – essentially our culture – removed. And when you buy these imported editions our authors receive less income, and if the local publishers have been subverted in the process, they will receive none. Quite simply, if the government adopts the Productivity Commission’s recommendation and removes the restrictions, local publishers will not have as much money to spend within the local industry.
This will mean job losses, fewer Australian books, potentially fewer bookstores as the playing field becomes uneven, and fewer author tours and the like, as publishers become unable to afford the extra expense of bringing overseas authors here without the guarantee of any monetary return.
We love being able to go into bookstores (not just our own!) and browse, and we love Australian writing and authors. We love being able to share Australian stories with the kids and to see ourselves and our diversity reflected in what we read. We love being able to go to author events and writers festivals and meet the creators and like-minded readers. We don’t want this to be threatened by recommendations that have been made based on ten-year old data and by people who don’t appear to understand the significance and importance of a thriving local book industry.
Submissions about this are due at the Productivity Commission today, so we know we haven’t given you a lot of time to have your say, but we’re also coming up to an election… Ask your local member what their view is of this issue and how much they value our Australian Publishing Industry.
English Books Buyer and Department Manager