Gutlessness and a pyrrhic victory

books

This is not good news:

The Government has decided not to change the Australian regulatory regime for books introduced by the previous Labor government.

Absolute gutlessness. A clear loss for Australians, who will now continue to be discriminated against by local publishers, just because a self-interested lobby group had the ear of enough ALP backbenchers to have their monopoly reinforced. (That lobby group is crowing.)

But even the Government concedes it’s futile:

In the circumstances of intense competition from online books and e-books, the Government judged that changing the regulations governing book imports is unlikely to have any material effect on the availability of books in Australia.

If books cannot be made available in a timely fashion and at a competitive price, customers will opt for online sales and e-books.

The upshot of which will be Australian consumers continuing to abandon bricks and mortar bookselling. By the time the local industry realises what it’s done, it will be – as it was for the music, television and movie industries – far too late.

UPDATE: Guy Rundle, cheering the outcome:

The free trade/hayek/alcan foil hat nuts never acknowledged the real problem of remainders (saying that authors shouldn’t sign up to such contracts is ludicrous — no one offers non-remainder contracts).

Wait, what? We should screw over Australian consumers because US publishers refuse to pay Australian authors royalties on every copy sold? Why? How did this system (of arbitrarily declaring that for some books sold they didn’t have to pay the author) start up in the first place? Why the hell should we accede to this blackmail from the publishers?

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9 responses to “Gutlessness and a pyrrhic victory

  1. I’ll just keep buying my way cheaper books from The Book Depository in the UK (free airmail postage!). No way will I pay Australian retail price for books when I see how much they sell for overseas. I’ve even bought Aussie-made books from the UK at less than half what they cost here.

    It is a pyrrhic because in the end it will bring about the demise of the Australian printing and publishing industry because they are not competitive living behind their protection barrier.

  2. Wait, Jeremy, so you actually support free trade in this instance? I knew Kruddy et al were chickens, but I didn’t realise they were chicken littles! Such a marginal special interest and they gave in anyway (call Barack Obama). Disappointing, even for them.

    PS, Book Depository rules; Craig Emerson is a complete fraud!

  3. It’s only when I moved overseas that it really hit me how unnecessarily expensive books in Australia are. My reading has increased several fold, in large part I can now afford to buy so many more books, because they’re just so cheap!

    I would have thought that increasing access to books is a net benefit to society that everyone should be able to agree upon. Apparently not.
    Sigh.

  4. Jeremy I find I agree with you allot of the time, but I fail to see why it is more important that we read cheap books rather then Australian books?

  5. TF,

    Who says cheap books mean non-Australian books?

    Earlier this year I bought ten Australian books in a music series. In Australia they were $45 plus $5 postage. I bought them from The Book Depository in the UK for $29 which included express airmail delivery.

    Tim Winton’s latest novel in hardcover was selling for $42 in Oz when I bought it from TBD for $21 again with airmail delivery.

    I can actually get a book quicker by mail from the UK than I can from the large chain stores in Sydney a 100 kms away.

    TBD has a huge back catalogue and often I can get out-of-print books not available anywhere else. And often hardcover editions that were only released as paperbacks here. One more thing I’ve noticed: the quality of the paper and binding on American and British books is usually far superior to the newsprint-like paper which seems to be used in many Aussie paperbacks.

    From today’s SMH, “The head of Melbourne University Publishing, Louise Adler, flagged a campaign to require overseas online retailers to collect GST from Australian customers.”

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/books-decision-a-windfall-for-amazon-says-fels-20091111-ia0a.html

    Even if I paid GST on my imports I would still be saving a huge amount. And money saved go towards more books.

    I’ve been a writer of fiction for many years and a member of the Australian Society of Authors for most of them and I just do not buy the arguments of the put forward to justify this protectionism. I do believe the ALP simply buckled to pressure from the printing and other unions.

  6. Dotty Daphon
    Do you understand the effect of allowing overseas remainders to flood our market will have on Australian Authors? It will put an end to the existence of full time Authors in this country.
    Jeremy
    Yes, the way remaindered books work is ridiculous. International publishers however will simply loose interest in Australian authors if we demand changes to these contracts without making concessions, let’s say they demand a lower royalty rate, well as authors are already paid a pittance for overseas royalties we would once again be punishing the author.

  7. TF,

    On Crikey today:

    “Evidently Emerson took a support program to Cabinet. It, along with the reforms, is now dead.

    The press release concludes “the Australian book printing and publishing industries will need to respond to the increasing competition from imports without relying on additional government assistance”.

    Cop that. In the face of what will become a threat to its very existence, the publishing industry had the chance to get additional support from the government, and successfully argued that it shouldn’t get it. Good work.”

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/11/11/in-terms-of-books-its-a-less-than-pirfect-world/

    It truly has all the appearance of Pyrric victory and I think in the long run instead of reforming themselves as a result of competition, the publishing industry has sown the seeds of own destruction (just like the car industry
    in Australia is albeit dead in the water and relying on financial drip feeds from the Australian taxpayer).

  8. I have to say I don’t really understand why the government has done this. To my reading of the situation it’s lose-lose all round: for the publishers because we will still keep using the internet to buy books, and for those authors who continue to use the “bricks and mortar” publishers.

    Not nobbling the regulatory framework seems so self-defeating.

  9. Disappointed – but not surprised. That columnist in the Saturday Age A2 section who was campaigning against restriction removal is happy (I just want to slap her!).

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