In the Parallel Imports debate, there are three important questions that need to be answered if we are to come to a conclusion that meets the needs of readers, booksellers and the publishing industry.

1. Why do people buy really buy books?

David  with book

The Commission centres most of its arguments for abolishing/reducing PRI’s on the fact that: it may lead to cheaper books, and that this is according to them, what the consumer wants.  Some do – but most buying decisions for books are based on: subject matter, content and author.

Clare McKenna, owner/manager of independent bookshop, Aesops Attic says,

My experience with book sales is that customers don’t purchase books based on price. Purchases of books are based on interest, author, topics, reviews and recommendations.

For children’s book purchases; reading level, age illustrations, author,  series, topic, content and size of book all play a part in purchase. Advertising and reviews on radio and in newspapers has a much greater impact on sales than price does.

Purchase price rarely comes into play and only seems to be with pensioners, and when a book has to be posted as the postage has to be considered as part of the total cost of the purchase.

Even the Productivity Commission concedes ‘Most Australians read regularly and for various reasons. Hence, their book purchasing decisions are influenced by a range of factors additional to price.’

So why, is price the only issue that seems relevant to the Commission? Surely if other reader needs for cultural content, authors of their choice etc aren’t met, then buyer demand for books in Australia will fall – and this will have ramifications for the economy and the industry.

Even Allan Fels, a fierce advocate of removing PIRs admitted at the Melbourne Writers Centre Parallel Imports forum that a book choice for his grandchild would not be predicated on price – that he would be ‘prepared to pay a bit more for a quality Australian book’.

2.         Who pays to develop Australian authored works?

Australian publishers need to charge a higher price because they have made the initial investment in the author and their book – they have put in the initial work of developing the book – the editing, research, fact checking process etc as outlined below:


This has involved three editors and the publisher. These hours include time for:

  • reading
  • discussion
  • marking up manuscript
  • writing reports
  • fact checking
  • phone conferences
  • half day meeting with the author
First structural edit and report 17 hours
Second structural edit and report 30 hours
Copy edit 24 hours
Proof reading (3 readers) 27 hours 98 hours

(13.1  working days)

Cover & internal design, writing of copy and typesetting 45 hours 45 hours

(6 working days)

This doesn’t include a similar amount of time spent by the Publisher to market me as a new author.

By the time/if my book Letters to Leonardo is published overseas, all the hard work will already have been done by my Australian Publisher at their expense. So if Australian books are to be written, edited and published to the highest standard, it is logical to expect that the Australian Publisher would have to charge more in order to recoup these costs.Bunheang Ung's cartoon resized

3.         Who pays the Environmental Cost?

Those very children who are allegedly the ones to benefit from ‘cheaper books’ will be left to cope with the massive carbon foot print caused by Australian books being produced overseas and flown in.

If PIRs are removed, those children will see trees cut down to produce Australian published books which then end up being pulped because they have been undercut by cheaper imports.

It is the role of economists to look at the production and distribution of goods, services and wealth.

But surely there are more important questions to be answered in this debate than how can we redirect discretionary spending away from the book industry?

Dee White


11 thoughts on “PIRs – THREE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS – By Dee White

  1. Froggy commented “if Australian books were more affordable…”
    My question is, more affordable compared to what & where? I’ve bought books from Amazon (not necessarily cheaper once you add in postage, but yes sometimes), I’ve bought books from local book stores (new & secondhand), from school fetes (great bargains!) & I get lots of books from my local library. There is a wide variation in book prices within Australia – my local Coles is selling the latest Dan Brown for just under $24, for example. I can buy a ‘classic’ Penguin for @$10 from my local bookstore. I can pay $15 to go & see a movie… If books were cheaper of course I’d buy more. I have to budget for them like I have to for everything else. But the fact is that not even the Productivity Commission is willing to state that prices will come down. In NZ, they came down by about 50 cents, I think – hardly enough to make a dent in the budget. The truth is that removing PIRs is nothing to do with reducing book prices & a lot more to do with economic ideology. And once PIRs are gone, we’ll all be paying the price in losing a flourishing & successful local industry.

  2. Let me say this one more time: Books in NZ are not cheaper after they abolished PIRs. Removing PIRs does not equal cheaper books. Removing GST would. (Like the UK)
    Removing the huge profit margins from Coles & Woolies would.

  3. I agree that lifting PIRs is not the way to cheaper books. You have absolutely no argument from me there. My point is that Australian publishers can’t have it both ways. Currently, there is no incentive for publishers to reduce book prices. Absolutely none.

    P.S. Libraries are great if you have access to them.

    • I can see your point Froggy, but when you look at the mathematics; If the department stores are demanding 60% off the price of the book, and out of the remaining 40%, the publisher pays 10% to the author PLUS the cost of producing, printing and marketing the book, then aren’t the department stores the ones with the greatest power to reduce the price of a product that arrives in store and has to be just placed on the shelf? And also there is the fact that publishers have to recoup the costs of sale and return which means that if a bookstore doesn’t sell the books they can just send them back to the publisher without incurring any cost for the ones they haven’t sold. This cost is born by the publisher.


      • Many publishers are doing very nicely even in this tight economic climate, some announcing record profits. But it is these same publishers that stand to lose the most (financially) if PIRs are lifted, not the retailers, so shouldn’t they be part of the solution? I mean, how ridiculous is it that I can buy Tim Winton’s latest novel much cheaper from overseas even with the exchange rate and freight taken into account?

        • Froggy, I’d be really interested to know which publishers you are referring to that have announced record profilts. And also, how much you paid for Tim Winton’s novel and where you purchased it from because according to our research, the price variation is more than ten dollars between different booksellers in Australia, and this would tend to suggest that the price of the book has little to do with the publishers and more to do with the booksellers.


    • how far away do you have to live to not have access to a library, Froggy? Even the most remote places I’ve lived have had mobile libraries.

      Booksellers have far more leeway than publishers to permanently lower RRP, however this is definitely something that should be viewed by the entire industry, to see where prices across the board could be cut.

      I believe you’ll see that is what we have been saying, that the Productivity Commission report is the most destructive way forward, and we would like an industry wide review of current practices.

      Personally I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for the Government and all involved, to use the review process to be able to develop a way to make the new technology in the industry readily available as well.

  4. Great article, Dee, well said. That is so true. Books are treasures and if people want a certain book, cost doesn’t come into it, but quality does. Who wants to buy cheep books with thin wimpy paper and not enough glue to hold them together? I don’t, and that’s what we’ll get.

  5. Three excellent questions.

    Because I’m an avid reader, price does factor in my buying decision. Not with Australian authors — I pay the full price for those — but I just couldn’t afford to spend the $120-odd a week it would cost me to feed my reading habit. Mind you, I’ve discovered many great authors I wouldn’t have otherwise in the discount bins. And yes, I’ve purchased books from Amazon based not only on price but service. One bad experience with Dymocks Online was more than enough.

    If we’re to keep the PIRS, Australian publishers need to give as well as take. If Australian books were more affordable, I’d read a lot more of them. As I’m sure others would.

    • Thanks for your comment, Froggy. I can understand how some people can’t afford to pay the prices asked on some books, but I suppose the point I’m making is that price is not the only factor in a book buying decision – and consequently, should not be the only factor being considered by the Productivity Commission.

      I’m like you and can’t afford to feed my reading habit, so I spend a great deal of time in libraries (am a member of four) and this is an option open to any book readers regardless of their income.

      I agree that cheaper books would be great; it’s just that I’m not sure this is the way to achieve them. The organisations we would be expecting to pass on any cost savings would be ones like Coles and Woolworths and judging by what has happened with petrol pricing, I’m not sure they can be relied upon to do so. At the moment, these organisations are receiving big discounts from the publishers (sometimes up to 60%), and so they are earning a lot more than those who created the book. And as you might have seen from my article, publishers do invest a lot of time and money in new Australian authors with little immediate return.

      Removing PIRs on the “possibility” that books “might” become cheaper is a big risk to take and could affect the livelihoods of so many people – independent booksellers, thousands of people in the printing and allied industries as well as authors, publishers and agents.


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