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?
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:
|TASK||TIME SPENT||TOTAL TIME|
This has involved three editors and the publisher. These hours include time for:
|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.
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?