Behind the bulldust…

Guest bloggerSheryl Gwytherauthor, artist, reader, teacher, parent

Get on any number of commentating, opinion blogs, like Crikey.com and the leading newspaper online blogs and you’ll find a host of passionate people arguing their corner regarding the proposed lifting of Territorial Copyright on Books.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen such passion lashing back and forward since the days after Princess Di died in that high-speed car crash in France … you remember …

MI5 and the Palace organised it!’  ‘No, it was the paparazzi.’   ‘I swear Arab terrorists are involved!’

Blah, blah, blah. I remember thinking, ‘Why the hell didn’t the silly woman put her seatbelt on at that speed!’

But I digress.

Re the current debate on Territorial Copyright in the online media, you don’t just get the occasional reasoned debate, you get name-calling, insults, irrational arguments and abuse.

I’ve been following one of these on Crikey.com – poor Shane Maloney copped a serve, as did Mem Fox – sensibly, neither replied to the abuse. No point arguing with unreasonable, narrow-minded, faceless bloggers.

If you get on to Courier Mail online, be prepared to throw your hat into the ring, have your say and run. Red-neck commentators are out in force – but that’s pretty usual up here in my neck of the woods, in fact, it’s fun to toss a ball in the bull-ants’ nest occasionally.

But, of course, the anti-author brigade aren’t just in Queensland, they’re all over the place.

Why is this? Do Australians think we earn so much money on royalties we lounge in our spa baths drinking caffè lattes as we tap out our next bestsellers on our little Netbooks? And that we’re spunging off the poor working man and woman?  That’s the impression I’m getting as I tour the opinion pages.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Authors make as little as 6 – 10% a book and that’s only if the book is sold for its Retail Rec Price at a bookseller. If an author’s books are picked up by the school discount market and distributed that way, they could be facing even less royalties. If the book is illustrated, well, guess what? That (possible) 10% is split in half.

It’s imperative to let Australians know these facts. Dislike of the cultural industries and anti-intellectualism should not colour the debate.

Abolishing the Parallel Import Restrictions will eventually rip a very large hole in the fabric of Australian publishing.  Remember: the US and the UK prohibit by law any threats to their Parallel Import Restrictions. Why allow it to happen here?

If you want to do something to help in a practical way write to the MPs of those departments involved in the final decision (see the page on this blog).  Make an appointment and go talk to your local MP about your concerns; ask them to pass it on to the Cabinet, Opposition or MPs holding the balance of power. Write letters to the editors. Talk to your local P&C; visit your school’s librarian, ask their opinions regarding this issue.

A side issue: People who bad-mouth authors, artists and musicians see no value in creativity.  They see it as a waste of time and of Government funding.  Why do you think this is so?

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10 thoughts on “Behind the bulldust…

  1. Having just read the entire post referenced by David Jackmanson, I can only shake my head. There is a lot of condescension on that site, and it reads very much of how dare anyone disagree with the obvious regulars.

    The ‘lay back with legs open’ comment is a very good visual image of what big business, and politicians have done to this country time and time again. Keating lowered import tariffs supposedly so we could have access to cheap fruit and vegetables. Thousands of seasonal workers lost their jobs, and the industry had to struggle, still do, to compete against countries with massive government support, or where the wages of workers are so low that it’s tantamount to slave labour.

    I would note that my local Safeway (Woolworths) with their huge buying power, sell a 4 kg bag of washed potatoes for around $8, and brushed (encrusted with a thick layer of dirt, so you get less potatoes) for approx $4. My local family owned-and-run grocery wholesalers sell locally grown, washed potatoes, for approx $3 for a 4 kg bag. Brushed potatoes are $4 for a 10 kg bag.

    So what is it the big chain supermarkets are doing to their customers?

    • Note from administrator:
      We encourage healthy debate so if anyone would like to continue the conversation, please go to THE DEBATE page to the right of the page and use the comments section. Thanks.

  2. Youngmarxist, I checked out your reference and it looks to me like the commentator’s
    visual imagery was a metaphor and certainly not abusive. Abuse is
    calling someone an idiot. At no time did she.

    I think it’s a very apt description of the pillaging of our book
    industry and Australian literary culture that will occur if the PIRs are
    lifted. The US and UK have Territorial Copyright laws in place and
    certainly don’t intend lifting them. If we do, we will be open to
    exploitation by them, specifically the dumping of remaindered books.

  3. Recently the author of this post commented on the Strange Times blog, where we support getting rid of protection for Australian-based publishers.

    I had already made a very long comment there, with no abuse, demonstrating some major holes in the arguments for protection. I’d also previously asked how we can support Australian authors without protecting the Australian-based publishing industry, in an attempt to start discussing serious cultural policy.

    The author of these comments ignored my attempt at a constructive contribution to the argument, and instead posted in her comment the words:

    “Are your correspondents expecting Australia to lie there with legs open, waiting for the rip-off to begin? Again. ”

    It seems that abuse and misrepresentation of the opposition’s arguments are not restricted to one side of this debate.

    When someone who is against your point of view decides to engage and debate, instead of abusing, are you willing to do the same? Or will you just indulge in exactly the same behaviour of which you accuse your opponents?

  4. Pingback: A letter to politicians: Saving Aussie Books « Blug…

  5. I’m glad debate is ongoing and it’s not all over with the release of the report. Thank you for your comment on my blog. I’m happy for you to link my letter to here, altho it’s a bit long. I’ve been copying my letter to library email lists, so hopefully a few more people will contact ALIA.

  6. Well said Sheryl, and great points, Penni.
    It seems the biggest argument the opposition can come up with is that authors are deluded, selfish and irrational. No acknowledgement that the push for cheaper books is being lead by a group of big businesses wanting to increase their already massive profits – who already have the power to lower book prices.

    If cheaper prices really will lead to greater demand, then economic theory suggests Dymocks is acting irrationally when they boost book prics ABOVE rrp. If they sold them at or below rrp, they would sell more – they’d be happy and so would we consumers.

  7. Well said Sheryl and Penni,

    You can’t have books without authors – whether the books are cheap or not.

    This IS more than about authors. It’s about the entire industry.

    Removing PIRs is a global issue that has ramifications not just for Australian books but for Australian publisher’s ability to import overseas books that can provide a valuable contribution to our cultural diversity and knowledge of international issues.

    Dee

  8. I don’t know, I find the earning thing tricky. So they might think we’re making scads of money lounging around making stuff up. But if you point out that actually it’s more likely we’re earning less than the average (scandalously underpaid but that’s another story) childcarer, then there’s the other backlash – well you’re obviously not doing it for the money so get a haircut and get a real job. It’s the work itself they see no value in I think, whatever the rewards or lack thereof.

    I think as authors we need to cop this on the chin a bit – okay, you hate us, just like you hated the teachers when they said ‘er, actually, our jobs are quite hard, do you think we could get the occasional payrise?’. That’s not really the issue. Our books being published isn’t even the total issue – I get what Jeff Sparrow over at Overland is saying when there’s a danger that to focus the topic squarely on Australian books having value simply because they are Australian could be seen as narrow and jingoistic (I disagree, but I get it).

    Surely some of them can relate to:
    -many many jobs will be lost and businesses forced to close – the big retailers won’t be picking up the slack of independent booksellers and their staff and publishers and printers and distributors.
    -a largely self-sustaining industry will become dependent on tax-payers by way of govt handouts, as recommended by the Productivity Commission (which seems bizarre to me from a bunch of economic rationalists)
    -Blue-collar writers who as well as ‘making stuff up’ write educational material, readers, bridging books for kids, are the ones whose jobs will be most at risk.
    -Resource books (like pregnancy books, parenting books, books about Alzheimers etc) that are currently repackaged in Australia often won’t be anymore, meaning all the phone numbers for specialist services etc will be international and useless.
    -There is NO guarantee that books will be cheaper.
    -And what’s better than cheap books? Free Books! Support your local library and get teacher librarians back in schools.

    I don’t really understand why people who hate authors want cheap books. What sort of authorless books are they buying?

    Penni

    • You’ve made some significant and relevant points, Penni – the sort of useful arguments people could use in their letters to politicians and to the media.

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