Thanks to prolific and highly regarded Australian author, and publisher at Ford Street Publishing, Paul Collins for allowing us to reprint this post about what he believes the ramifications of scrapping Parallel Imports on books will be.
PROPOSED COPYRIGHT REVISIONS COULD BE CATASTROPHIC
By Paul Collins
Cheaper books is only the tip of the iceberg where parallel importation is concerned. Go to http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/study/books/submissions and see why it’s so important to fight against changes to the Copyright Act.
No one has a problem with cheaper books, but let it be our Australian books that people buy, not overseas titles that are censored, distorted and dare I say it, sold by high discount outlets as loss leaders to entice customers into their stores. No one is really making money on titles bought from these places. Nor do we want Australia to become a dumping ground for remaindered books, either.
If anyone doubts this claim, let me give you a fact. One of the best-selling books in the world was the first Harry Potter book. Just about every bookstore sold it at a discount to get punters into their stores—some stores discounted so heavily they actually lost on every copy sold! Sure, the public got cheaper books, but at a great cost to the entire book industry.
One argument touted by one politician is that if cheaper books gets even one kid to read, then it’s a good idea. I could burst a blood vessel trying to figure out that rhetoric.
There were no books in my house when I was growing up, and I have to say, a book’s price had absolutely nothing to do with their absence. If people are that hard up, let them borrow from the library. Also, how many people realize that booksellers often increase the RRP of books? Authors and publishers don’t get a cent of this extra income, the bookseller gets it all. Kind of makes a mockery of the Coalition for Cheaper Books’ stance that they want cheaper books for the public, doesn’t it?
1/ Authors receiving less remuneration from imported books. Go to the website mentioned and you’ll see proof of this.
2/ Unfair competition — obviously higher print runs can be produced at a lower price per unit, ergo, lower RRP price. Smaller presses will not be able to compete with imported titles.
3/ The loss of cultural identity. Lose Australian publishers and we’ll lose our voice.
4/ Remaindered books being dumped on our market. Back in the 70s British publishers bought British Commonwealth Rights from authors. They printed more than they needed to get cheaper print quotes, then dumped the surplus on our market. I suspect this still happens. It certainly will if parallel importation restrictions are ditched.
5/ Authors make little enough as it is — take away that little bit extra and you will find fewer authors making a living from their writing. To lose even one great writer due to financial duress will be a travesty.
6/ The general reading public may not be aware or this, nor booksellers who probably welcome parallel importation, but let me tell you America’s censorship laws are draconian. In education circles it’s quite well known that Meredith Costain wrote a Barbie book set in Broome. She had an outdoors worker who was suntanned. The editor crossed out the word and wrote on the manuscript: sun abuse! A kid in a book of mine was sitting too close to a fire at camp. The illustrator had to re-draw the illustration. Alison Lester had a naked baby by a paddling pool so had to add a nappy; no authority figures can be denigrated; no fantasy featuring witches/superstition et al is allowed; Craig Smith had to delete the udder from a cow … the list could fill a ream. What I’m saying here is that the Americans are forced to publish pap due to their unrealistic censorship rules, and our kids, who should get decent, realistic literature, aren’t getting it because Australian publishers need co-editions with US publishers to make the figures work—Australian kids are fed American censorship rules!). This is a clear example of how importation of US books will affect our trade. It’s happening now.
7/ New Zealand scrapped their parallel importation restrictions and the industry is still reeling. Why can’t we learn from history?
8/ I for one am fed up with importation of American culture. We lose our own identity every time a heavily promoted American product hits our shores. Our kids should be nurtured with Australian content, NOT overseas content. Australian books are heavily censored and changed to suit American culture. Why on earth do we want their version of OUR stories coming back into Australia? Try finding the word corroboree in an American published book. I doubt you’ll find it. They butcher our literary heritage and what, we want to import the product?
9/ Are you aware that most books in the US are not given more than eight hours editorial time? Australian editors are still employed to edit books. Our editorial input is second to none, and I say this as both an author and publisher. Let’s not import inferior books. I see too many US published books riddled with spelling errors and typos. Our publishing houses are not cutting editorial staff as are the American publishers.
10/ Due to the aforementioned cutbacks, I believe overseas, especially US, product to be inferior to the home-grown product. Booksellers may well welcome the chance to make an extra buck, but dare I say it will be the chain stores that use books as loss leaders to entice people into their stores who will benefit from this folly, and not the authors and publishers, who rely on books for their livelihoods.
11/ Australian authors are well represented on the International stage where major awards are concerned: The Commonwealth Prize, the IMPAC Dublin Award, Man Booker, Guardian, Orange Prize and most recently, Sonya Hartnett winning the world’s largest literary prize: the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Do we really want to lose these treasures for the sake of the greedy few?
12/ Former NSW Premier is all for scrapping the PIRs. I wonder how many people realise that he’s on Dymocks’ Board of Directors?! What Allan Fels has to gain from his charge on the industry is anyone’s guess, but I suspect there are snouts in the trough somewhere.
Last but not least, most Australian authors survive on PLR and ELR remuneration. I am not sure that imported books will carry the same ISBNs, therefore will not be counted as books in the municipal/educational system. If libraries and schools were to be bought from chain stores (and many do, because they’re selling books at 35% discount) then authors will no longer receive that remuneration from their books.
Believe me, revising the Copyright Act re parallel importation restrictions is a catastrophe in the making. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broken, don’t try to fix it.
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Watch out for forthcoming posts about the ramifications for authors and the environmental impacts of removing PIRs.
Guest bloggers will include Michael Gerard Bauer and Federal Green’s representatives.