FREE TRADE COULD COST US MILLIONS

Guest BloggerDee White –  author

Alan Fels and Bob Carr are pushing to have Parallel Import Restrictions on books removed on the basis that this will create ‘Free Trade’; providing economic growth and opportunity.

But this whole concept raises the questions of ‘opportunity for whom’ and ‘at what cost’?

Clearly, those organisations that stand to make the most benefit from such a move are the duopolies of Coles and Woolworths; both members of the Coalition for Cheaper Books, both with massive buying power that will enable them to import huge volumes at heavily discounted prices. There is no guarantee they will pass these discounts on (do they reduce petrol prices when the price of oil goes down?) and furthermore, if they offer cheaper books, it is likely to be a temporary move aimed at pricing their competitors out of the market rather than producing long term discounts for consumers.

One of the major principles of ‘Free Trade’ is its mutual benefit to member countries; mutual implying that each party enjoys advantages from the arrangement. Yet his can only happen if both parties open up their markets. The USA, UK and Canada have stated categorically that they have no intention of opening up their markets – no intention of abolishing Parallel Import Restrictions on books in their own countries.

So where does such a one-sided arrangement leave Australia?

If we remove Parallel Import Restrictions and our trading partners don’t, this makes us very vulnerable.

The Printing Industries Association of Australia estimates that such a move could cost 1400-1600 jobs, yet the figure could be even higher.

According to the 2007 Census, more than 40,000 people are employed in printing and support services and over 6,000 in book publishing. This does not take into account authors or illustrators who also number in the thousands.

Many of the printing jobs will be lost in regional areas where entire economies will be decimated. There are also some 28,000 independent booksellers; many of whose livelihoods will be put at risk if the Coles and Woolworths duopolies are allowed free rein.

In addition to this, book exports will shrink, there will be less choice for consumers as few book titles will be on sale, and there will be fewer opportunities for new Australian authors to be published.

And for me, one of the worst side effects of all this will be the massive carbon footprint as books are air-freighted from overseas.

If you’re concerned like I am at the possibility of the Book Industry and our environment being sacrificed in the name of ‘Free Trade’, there’s something you can do.

A working party is currently looking at all sides of this story. Now is the time to have your say – talk to your local federal politician! Meet with them and express your concerns! Exercise your democratic voice!

To find out who your Federal politician is, you can download the list from this blog.

Act now! 17th September is the date set out for a Cabinet decision on this issue.

Dee White  http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

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14 thoughts on “FREE TRADE COULD COST US MILLIONS

  1. Blue Tyson – trying to clear something up here. Your words…

    Kim,

    You are saying the majority of Australian books for young children with Australian children in them have international editions or come from overseas? I don’t believe that – do you have evidence?

    Ummmm, where did I say this? How did you construe this from what I said? Please look back to my post. I’m very puzzled here!

    That said, there ARE vast numbers of Aussie children’s books that ARE published in Australia first, and then in foreign editions. I will not use the word majority, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say a substantial number. You may not have seen them when you travelled – but then you may not have looked!
    We should be proud that the world wants our literature.
    We should also be proud enough to stand up for and support it.

  2. The percentage of Australian authors with American editions of their books is very small – and as you say, these are the more popular authors.

    Should not be making public policy to protect privileged outliers.

    Why should all Australians – including your run of the mill authors who won’t ever sell many books – pay more for foreign books in the long term? Hence for their children’s education, for one thing.

    The same goes for Australian bands – and pretty much similar line of complaining.

    As for what is influencing Australian children’s speech/writing – it is pretty clear to me that it is television etc. in the majority.

    What you also ignore is the fact that we can buy books from bookshops overseas more cheaply – something that Australian printing/publishing companies get zero from, now.

    As this continues to increase, overinflated prices makes books here less and less attractive and competitive – and hence harder for local retailers.

    • Many people buy online now from Amazon and such places (I do myself, occasionally, if it’s something difficult to get here) and the sky hasn’t fallen – mind you, they’re not all that cheaper when you take into consideration the changing Aussie dollar, exchange rate charges and postage. I mostly buy books here so I’m supporting the Australian author, and the people who work in the publishing, printing, distributing and independent bookselling industries.

      Blue Tyson, I suggest you read many of the excellent articles on this site so you have a wider understanding of the whole complex issue – most are from the point of view of printers, publishers, educators, readers, parents and authors – all Australians who stand to lose if Parallel Import restrictions are abolished.

  3. savingaussiebooks,

    The major publishers and producers of books ARE multinational companies.

    Australian authors do not take up a huge amount of shelf space – depending on what you mean by huge. The figure in the report is around 1/3.

    You only have to wander around a shop with your eyes open to see that.

    Kim,

    You are saying the majority of Australian books for young children with Australian children in them have international editions or come from overseas? I don’t believe that – do you have evidence?

    I lived in America for many years, I never saw lots of these in bookshops, that is for sure.

    • You misunderstand what I said. Australian authors do have editions of their books published in the US. At the moment those books are not allowed to be sold here – and that’s the way we want to keep it mainly because of the changes that the American ‘gate-keepers’ expect to be done on those books. Most authors are horrified with what their books end up as, but hey, they get more copies sold there than here. No problems!

      The problems start if those books are allowed into the country and are in direct competition with the same books published here by Australian publishers. The same Aussie publishers who have spent over two years nurturing and helping produce that story into the printed version, and who, if they aren’t turned into warehouses for their overseas head-companies (under Parallel Imports without restrictions), will continue to develop and support Australian authors.

      As an author, it would be nice to earn more than 6-10% a book’s RRP though – I live in hope.

  4. Sharyn,

    I have. I have studied the productivity commission report and some related material. Have you?

    It is not at all destructive when we keep more money in the country instead of giving it to Random House or Stephen King, or whoever.

    Not to mention being able to get cheaper books for education.

    Dumping? They are dumping now. All they do is import the book and stick a huge price increase sticker on it, in general.

    Far better off if that process has competition.

    Also, ALIA, the Australian librarians agree with me.

    So librarians, retailers, public vs publishers and authors (or the mostly delusional who hope one day they might be a best selller).

    Higher prices means people buy fewer books long-term, and therefore less authors will get published.

    The whole culture argument is rubbish, too.

    No reason that Tim Winton or Garth Nix deserve more protection than Yothu Yindi or Men At Work or Midnight Oil or Wolfmother, etc.

    When billion dollar organisations whine, you know they don’t have your interests at heart, only theirs, in general.

    Also, when the yanks and poms suggest it is a good idea to leave things how they are, what does that tell you? It benefits them more, clearly.

    • Blue Tyson, not sure what you’re arguing actually.

      But one point I have to make in response – ALIA were using old data when the person who wrote their submission sent it off. Now that many librarians are better informed of the facts about how Parallel Imports will not guarantee cheaper books, but will negatively affect Australian authors and the books we write, I suggest they’d like to stamp the official ALIA submission CANCELLED.

      Another point is to do with culture. What you’re meaning re culture and what I understand it to be seem two different things. My concern is the bad affect on Australian children’s stories when Parallel imports of American editions of those Australian books is sold in preference to the genuine article. This is my field of expertise (as a ex-teacher and children’s author) and I have seen already how American publishers emasculate great Aussie stories, both picture books and Young Adult novels in spelling, language, setting, characters and so on. If you like to find out more about this check out any of the article in this blogsite dealing with children’s books.

      Our publishing system is not perfect here, that’s for sure. But I’m very suspicious when free-market lobbiests start spruiking their lies – it’s not about making books cheaper for ordinary Australians, it’s about making higher profits for multi-national companies and themselves.

    • Blue Tyson, I have indeed read the Productivity Commission’s report. I also remember the political cheaper food exhortations that led to the trade tariffs on cheap food from overseas being brought into this country. I also know about the diseases that also entered this country through fresh produce. Do you? And yet, people still complain about our groceries being too high. How can this be?

      The CD argument has been used by a lot of those saying how good losing protection is. A very simple test: TripleJ’s Hottest 100 list, five years after the CD market was opened up, a mere 23 songs on their list were by Australian artists.

      Mr Tanner cautioned me not to draw comparisons on grocery prices between New Zealand and Australia, as it didn’t take into account wage differentials, and exchange rates. I haven’t found a break down of wage differentials, taxation rates, exchange rates etc to support the Productivity Commission’s book price comparison, have you?

      When billion dollar organisations whine … the ones who did the most whining, because the Australian public already has the ability to access cheap overseas markets, were Coles/Woolworths et al. So exactly who’s best interest are they looking out for?

      By the way, my local librarian most certainly did not agree with ALIA’s submission.

  5. Blue Tyson – I don’t know how you can say that the majority of books sold in Aust are foreign books by foreign authors. This just isn’t true.
    Aussie authors take up a huge amount of shelf space in our bookstores. And you will find that many, many foreign authored books are actually Aussie editions – they have been published and printed here. While royalties and rights payments return overseas, the rest of the profits stay HERE, with the Aussie companies and workers who produced them.
    If recommended changes to law are adopted, THEN we will see foreign editions filling up our bookstores. THEN we will see profits head off overseas, instead of staying here. THEN we will see the independent bookstores, whom you seem to recognise need support, fall to the mercy of the large chains.
    The best way to keep our profits here is to manufacture our books here.

  6. Blue Tyson, I believe, if you look at some of the other posts, and links to letters to politicians, that you will find that we are not saying the industry doesn’t need change, merely that the change currently up for consideration is the most destructive to this country.

    I remember plenty of times when trade tarriffs were lowered, or removed, and maybe more money was made, but I have also seen the huge amount of damage done to those industries. So perhaps you might want to actually look a little harder into the issue, if you actually care. Have a look at the facts I presented to Mr tanner in my guest post, and read his response to that in the comment

  7. It is the other countries that benefit currently, because most of the books we buy are foreign by foreign authors. So increased prices and money goes to them, leaving Australia.

    I’ve been thinking about this, and I am pretty sure that if lobby groups stop this I will never buy a new book in Australia again.

    Independent bookshops get shafted by current Australian major publishers not giving them the same discount as to other booksellers. So they are anti-small guy already.

    Remember last time not so long ago that protectionism was decreased – more money was made.

  8. We don’t want other countries or duopolies to benefit at the expense of Australian jobs and the environment.

    That’s why it’s important for people to raise this issue with their local federal politicians ….and/or download a petition from this site and get it signed.

    A decision on PIRs is going to be made very soon so we need to act now!

  9. This will mean more jobs move off shore.
    Where will Coles and Woolies stop?
    Groceries…
    Fuel…
    Books…
    Which industry will be their next target?
    And who will be left to switch off the light?

  10. A very important point you’ve made, Dee. One of the major principles of ‘Free Trade’ is its MUTUAL BENEFITS – but if the Productivity Commissions recommendations are adopted, Australia will not be on that level playing field. Other countries will be benefiting AT OUR EXPENSE. Australia will quickly become the mass dumping ground for other publishers’ waste products.

    Cheaper books (maybe) – but at what price?

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