On dinosaurs and books (mainly books, not so much dinosaurs)

Tonight, I was fortunate enough to attend ‘Restrictions on parallel imports: to remove or not to remove?’, which was chaired by Dr Mark Davis at ACMI for MWF. Below is a summary of what was brought up during the debate surrounding the Productivity Commission’s report

According to Professor Allan Fels, ex-chairman of the ACCC, the average price of books in Australia was substantially higher than overseas editions. The introduction of parallel importation in the music industry did reduce the price of CDs significantly, and similar reforms in the publishing industry should produce similar benefits for the consumer. He conceded that there would be some impact on Australian writers, but this would not be significant as there was currently a strong demand for good, Australian writing. To minimise impact on emerging Australian writers, he was in favour of direct assistance (i.e. grants), an idea that attracted grumblings from other panellists and the audience.

Industry blogger Peter Donoughue was also in favour of parallel importation. He was sceptical in regards to a guaranteed price drop, since price depended on currency volatility and freight costs, but he did believe that parallel importation would force major Australian publishers to become more responsive to the market. ‘The publishing industry should not fear change, but be wary of change.’ He then used the analogy of an apartment block (the Australian publishing market) and an untidy fence (current parallel import restrictions). Removal of the fence did not destroy one’s rights to the property.

Representatives from the publishing industry, however, spoke heatedly against parallel importation. Penguin’s Gabrielle Conye did not believe that prices of books would go down, citing Hong Kong as an example where booksellers were not passing on savings to consumers, while Hardie Grant’s Sandy Grant explained that parallel importation would disadvantage Australian publishers. The US and UK weren’t going to open their markets; Australian publishers could not export cheaper books to such countries; why should Australia open its market?

Grant also spoke of ‘cultural damage’. If Australian publishing became less profitable, then Australian publishers would be less likely to take risks with new Australian writers. In regards to Professor Fels’s suggestion of direct assistance, he wanted to know why subsidies were necessary when a robust industry already existed.

Dr Mark Davis then introduced music industry representative David Vodicka who explained how the Australian music industry had been affected by parallel importation. Though prices of CDs have dropped over the years, Vodicka believed that this was due to the internet and not industry reform. He warned that emerging artists and smaller labels had difficulty accessing the market, that stores cared little for ‘cultural diversity’, and that government subsidies were often unreliable.

Towards the end of the debate Professor Fels reassured everyone that parallel importation would have little direct impact on Australian writers. Very few Australian writers were printed overseas. It was unlikely that an imported, cheaper edition would compete with local editions.

Nevertheless, with profits shifting from the publishers to booksellers, I cannot help but worry. After all, it was the after-effects of the comet’s impact, and not the comet itself, that wiped out the dinosaurs.

productivity commission debate

Left to right: Peter Donoughue, Sandy Grant, Gabrielle Coyne, David Vodicka, Prof. Allan Fels, Dr Mark Davis

For more on parallel importation, read the Productivity Commission’s report on the internet, the Australian Society of Authors’ response. Hate the PC already? Sign the petition against the PC’s recommendations at savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “On dinosaurs and books (mainly books, not so much dinosaurs)

  1. Thanks for your excellent report on the Forum. Let me add a comment re Professor Fels reassurance that PIs would have little effect on Australian writers – many of us aren’t published overseas, but we will still be affected when Australian publishers begin to lose money and are forced to cut back on their intake of new authors and new books. Their support and nurturing of developing authors that currently happens will drop off.
    Bookbuyers will have less choice of Australian books in the future.
    Professor Fels and Peter Donoughue didn’t mention either the fact that the editions of Australian published in the US are changed to suit their market – not just spelling, but content as well. These are the books that will be in competition with the authentic editions sold here if PIs are allowed.
    Re children’s books – we at the SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS campaign feel very strongly about this.
    As authors and parents we fear for the future of the brilliant, funny, poignant and thoughtful Australian children’s books. Australian children deserve to read stories set in their own country, mirroring their experiences, language and landscape not those of a child from mid-West America or Washington.
    Re the ONLINE PETITION on the Saving Aussie Books site – the cut-off date is September 5th so please sign soon. Spread the message.
    Thanks,
    Sheryl Gwyther.
    http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com/

    • Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

      …many of us aren’t published overseas, but we will still be affected when Australian publishers begin to lose money and are forced to cut back on their intake of new authors and new books. Their support and nurturing of developing authors that currently happens will drop off.

      That seemed to be the unspoken vibe at the session, but none of the speakers seemed to acknowledge or address it to my satisfaction.

      Professor Fels and Peter Donoughue didn’t mention either the fact that the editions of Australian published in the US are changed to suit their market – not just spelling, but content as well.

      Ergh. I didn’t realise that. That just made parallel importation all the more unfavourable. Oops, I mean ‘unfavorable’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s