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globalisation + book publishing « Previous | |Next »
July 16, 2009

Globalisation is catching up with the book publishing industry in Australia and the current system restrictions on book imports that is designed to protect local publishers from the competition from low-cost imports. Import restrictions are used to protect local publishers and authors. Can Australia's cultural industries thrive without protectionism?

On Tuesday the Productivity Commission's report----Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books recommended removing restrictions on book imports to help make them cheaper, whilst acknowledging the changes would hurt the local publishing industry. It says that after examining the available quantitative and qualitative evidence:

the Commission has concluded that the PIRs place upward pressure on book prices and that, at times,the price effect is likely to be substantial. The magnitude of the effect will vary over time and across book genres. Most of the benefits of PIR protection accrue to publishers and authors, with demand for local printing also increased. Most of the costs are met by consumers, who fund these benefits in a nontransparent manner through higher book prices.

It says that reform of the current arrangements is necessary, to place downward pressure on book prices, remove constraints on the commercial activities of booksellers and overcome the poor targeting of assistance to the cultural externalities.

By cultural externalities the Commission is referring to consumers of culturally significant books directly benefiting from the cultural value of a vibrant national literature. They say that:

PIRs [Parallel Import Restrictions] are a poor means of promoting culturally significant Australian works. They do not differentiate between books of high and low cultural value.The bulk of the assistance leaks offshore, and some flows to the printing industry.

Hence the idea floating around that the Government could help promote the cultural value of Australian authors through direct subsidies, rather than by general import restrictions.

The Australian literary culture crowd are up in arms and they have been defending the value of high literature against those of the marketplace. My own situation is akin to Elizabeth Farrelly's. I do buy from Amazon whilst also trying to support the local bookshop. I have only been into Borders once and I look forward to a good battery charged- e-book reader so that I can read digital books.

I have dramatically cut back on buying books (they are expensive) and welcome the way that the internet has opened up the possibilities for self-publishing re my photography. Independent Australian publishers would not be interested in this kind of work.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:27 AM | | Comments (7)


for me the key issue is whether we want to have an Australian publishing industry, and support Australian authors and local independent bookstores. How do we do that in a global world?

The other side of this issue is a Dymocks or BigW that brings in remaindered books from the US market, not paying authors and publishers their royalties, but ensuring that these booksellers have bigger profit margins.

The appeal to cultural nationalism by the Aut. Lit. crowd tugs at the old heart strings, but the independent publishers are running a protect our local cultural industry jobs campaign as well.

And like the music industry before it, authors have to be best sellers before it really starts to matter. And a best seller isn't necessarily quality or good for the culture or something that should immediately go on the secondary schooling reading list.

It's complicated, but I do think there should be some way for authors to benefit if their own works are imported.

I'd also hate to see independent book stores go out of business, but that's a snobbery thing.

The Australian music industry is still going even though the protection of local CD was eased.

Books are expensive in Australia and have been so for a long time. Thus books on politics, history, science etc that sell for $US15 or so ($A18 at current exchange rates), sell for $A30 or $A40 here.

The main defenders of protecting Australian books in a global world are the literary crowd with their small print runs of a thousand copies on which the literary tradition is built. This is done by a few small and independent publishers who depend on PIR to sustain their business. Guy Rundle points out in Crikey:

the PIR rule effectively allows Australian publishers the option of putting out an exclusive edition of a foreign or Australian book, as long as they bring it out within 30 days of overseas publication, and keep it restocked as it sells out of bookshops (within 90 days of it becoming generally unavailable).For Australian publishers, it [the PIR ]creates a sector monopoly -- they can cherry pick the best international books, acquire the rights and publish them here without the competition of a pallet of the US edition suddenly arriving. The most in-demand books thus have a different jacket, interior design, and maybe foreword or intro to the Oz edition -- and all the costs that go with an extra print run, etc, rather than simply getting a slice of a larger US or UK print run.

That benefits most Australian authors indirectly -- in that it supports a local publishing industry to publish their books, most of which will never get an overseas edition, there thus being no competing editions to prevent from being imported.

Michael Wilding in THe SMH makes a good point. He says:

Printing and paper costs are much higher in Australia than in the US or Asia. The book bounty once provided subsidies to offset high Australian printing costs, but it has been abolished. Perhaps it should be restored. There is arguably a better case for reintroducing the book bounty than for prohibiting the importation of cheaper books. The reintroduction of a preferential printed matter postal rate, such as in the US, would similarly help small presses that rely on the post for distribution.

Such small presses and literary publishers have a case. Their problems are specific and could readily be addressed. That is the sort of thing the Australia Council was established to deal with. But literary publishing and the cultural heritage comprise only a very small part of the publishing industry.

It seems to come down to whether it's worthwhile protecting an aesthetic for the few.

High profile authors are upset about it, but the publishers will suffer the most. New authors will just deal with overseas publishers instead.

a very narrow aesthetic indeed. There is no talk about a protecting a visual culture. Nor would the small independent publishers do much to help to nurture an independent photographic culture. Literature not photography is the only creative activity that creates cultural value for the Aut. Lit. crowd. Despite the centrality of a visual culture in postmodernity, the rhetoric of the Aut Lit crowd is that we (only them, of course) "have to tell our stories etc etc".

Honestly, the PIR makes no sense at all with the emergence of online books and will online books broaden when we are able to use the kindle in Australia.