Wendy Orr

Guest Blogger today is well loved, multi awarded author, Wendy Orr. As well as children’s books like Nim’s island (which was made into a film), Wendy writes for adults (The House At Evelyn’s Pond) and young adults (Peeling the Onion).

This is Wendy’s view on what will happen if PIRs  on books are removed in Australia.


By Wendy Orr

If you live in Australia you may have heard that the Government is considering lifting the restrictions on book stores importing Australian books, and books that are published in Australia, from overseas publishers.

At present, Australia – like the USA, the UK and Canada (and I believe, most other countries) has a law that book stores should buy from Australian publishers if possible. Individuals can of course buy from or any other bookstore anywhere in the world.

However, the suggestion is that if the big book chains like Dymocks can source books more cheaply overseas, they should bring them in. It sounds very appealing – because how could we doubt that they would pass on that saving to the consumer? (In fact, once you count in tax and the exchange rate,books aren’t always cheaper overseas; sometimes they’re more, and sometimes they’re cheaper because different sized and quality of books are being compared – but I’ll ignore that for the moment.)

Of course the books they’re sourcing won’t be Australian books: even if they started out as Australian books, they will come in with changes not just to spelling and words (torch to flashlight, sidewalk to footpath, etc) but sometimes – especially in children’s books – changes to content, so that humour or events that aren’t easily accessible to the English or American child are deleted or altered.

For example, in my book Amanda’s Dinosaur, the line in the original Australian book is: ‘goannas and snakes, turtles and lizards.” The US edition deleted the goannas. That’s fine: it’s a book for very young children, and the goannas only appear in that line. It does break the rhythm, but an American five year old child has lost nothing by skipping the goannas. But I think it’s a real shame if Australian five year olds lose the opportunity to have one of their native animals mentioned in books.

Of course one of the other things that can happen is that if an Australian book is published overseas, and doesn’t sell as well as the publisher hoped, they may remainder the book: get rid of at a fraction of what it cost to produce, simply to get it out of the warehouse. (That’s when you see books at those wonderful huge warehouse sales: “Books at 90% off!” etc.) Of course the author isn’t paid for these book, and neither is the Australian publisher. Fair enough. And if a few thousand of these $1 books are dumped into Australia, obviously anyone in their right mind would buy those instead of the full price Australian edition.

That means the Australian edition may quite likely also have to pulped or dumped too – but that’s just more bonus for the consumer. Unfortunately it also means that the Australian publisher may go broke, or have to cut back so much they decide to simply import books from overseas publishers and not gamble their money on anyone except the most established, best selling Australian authors.

However the government has a solution for the fact that Australian authors will lose their incomes: tax payer funded grants. So there will still be some Australian authors, and a bureaucracy will decide who they are. Much more efficient than letting consumers decide. So even though many printers and publishers will lose their jobs, there’ll be a few more jobs for bureaucrats.

If you think Australia needs to maintain its own culture, and its own publishing industry, you can sign the online petition here at Saving Aussie Books.

Wendy Orr

11 thoughts on “AUSSIE BOOKS AND AUTHORS AT RISK – By Wendy Orr

  1. Great post, Wendy.

    Economists say that removing protectionism & (selectively) replacing it with (temporary) subsidies makes it “transparent”. The trouble is, that they don’t highlight the (selectivity) and (temporariness) of this arrangement, or state up front what the cost is going to be to the taxpayer & the industry. The tax payer is gouged regardless of whether he/she actually buys the books/bananas (or insert your choice of subsidised goods here)…

  2. I disagree with most of the fears. In essence Australia has been censoring literature for some years under this guise. Time it stopped and also time to get away from our protected cottage industry type of thinking.

    • Robert, are you seriously saying markets with parallel import restrictions are cottage industries?

      Well then, in 2005 the US’s publishing ‘cottage industry’ sold 3.1 billion books. Not bad going, really.

      Australia’s book market could, and should, be scrutinised to see where costs can come down, but scrapping PIRs is the most destructive option.

    • Robert, if you’d like to learn more about this issue there are some really useful entries on this blog in Archives. Publishing in Australia is on par with anywhere in the western world, and did you realise that Aussie children’s books and authors win awards all over the world?

  3. I agree wholeheartedly. We have one of the best read and engaged markets in the world but it is still tiny compared to the US. Local publishers will stop supporting Australian authors if they see no profit in buying Australian stories. Without Australian stories, our world view will drift ever further north and our culture will become even more Americanised.

  4. Well said, Wendy. I’ve just passed your article on to my American friends – they’re horrified at this prospect. They had no idea of the rich reading experiences now being taken away from American children.

    • Thanks for your comment, Froggy,

      Despite the impressive rhetoric of the “Age” piece, it fails to show a true understanding of the issues involved here. The whole point is that people will be given LESS access to foreign material if the parallel import restrictions on books are removed.

      Removing PIRs on books will mean that Australian publishers will have less income at their disposal not only to nurture Australian writers, but also to bring in foreign works; which as Jacob Varghese points out, are essential for expanding our culture. Bringing in quality works from overseas about other cultures is quite different from having our books adulterated so that nappies become diapers and taps become faucets and so on.

      The parallel imports debate is not about cutting off foreign works (Australian authors and readers welcome foreign authored works); it’s about the risk of cutting off Australian authors before their careers have even begun…and when Jacob Varghese talk about the profiteering publishing industry this shows his ignorance to the fact that authors earn 10% of the book’s recommended retail price and that certain members of the Coalition for Cheaper books are actually demanding around 60% discount from publishers in order to stock the book in their supermarket chains.


    • Froggy, the Age article disproves itself. In one sentence the article’s writer, who happens to be a lawyer, says parallel import restrictions are “law that stops anyone from accessing foreign editions.” In another they quote their purchase price fo a recent book on Amazon, and it’s cost here.

      So either he is lying when he says it’s a law preventing people accesing foreign editions, or he has just publicly admitted to buying a contraband item.

      View the rest of his article with that in mind.

    • Thanks for your replies, Dee and Sharyn.

      I wasn’t saying that Jacob Varghese was right, more that the issue is far from black and white.

      No question, we need to protect Australia’s literary culture. You talk about Australian publishers nurturing Australian writers, but I would like to see that backed up with some statistics. For example, how many Australian debut novels were published in the last financial year as a percentage of total titles published in Australia?

      I go out of my way to support Australian authors and will continue to do so, but where is this new literary talent Australian publishers are supposedly nurturing? From my understanding, publishers here would rather ‘publish’ international books with a guaranteed return than risk investing in an unknown local writer.

      • Hi Froggy,

        Thanks for your response. You are right, this issue is far from black and white….but there are also a lot of unsubstantiated claims being published in the media – that are totally misleading.

        What the media isn’t telling you is that many works by new Australian writers are being published. My debut YA novel, Letters to Leonardo came out on 1st July this year. I know for a fact that my publisher spent 98 hours editing and proofreading my book, 45 hours in production and around another 150 hours marketing it.

        This was my first novel, and the product of over 10 year’s work. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have it accepted for publication. I know for a fact that my publisher, Walker Books takes on many debut authors. Knowing the hours they spent, and the kind of sales you normally get for books by first time authors, they might not even break even on my first book.

        I launched Letters to Leonardo recently at the CYA conference in Brisbane alongside Katherine Apel (This is the Mud published by Hachette) and Kim Miller (They told me I had to Write this – published by Ford Street Publishing). All three of us were Australian authors launching debut works. I also know that Woolshed Press published Chris Bonger’s, Dust this year. I am pretty sure that was a debut novel. And Belinda Jeffrey’s wonderful book, Brown Skin Blue (published by University of Queensland Press) is another debut work by an Australian author.

        If you look at the publisher submissions to the Productivity Commission, I’m pretty sure you will find more evidence of this.

        Hope this clarifies for you that new Australian authors are currently being published. It’s one of the reasons I am fighting this issue so hard. I know how hard it is to get your work out there…and I want my colleagues to be given the same opportunities that I have had. These opportunities will be significantly reduced if PIRs are removed.


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