Bunheang Ung's cartoon resizedMichelle Grattan in yesterday’s Melbourne Age reported that Don Grover, Dymock’s CEO had suggested a 1% levy be placed on publishers to fund the ongoing production of ‘cutlurally worthwhile’ books.

Author Sally Murphy responds.

Now I’ve heard everything! The very organisation pushing for a change which will make it harder for publishers to publish wonderful Australian books, says the problem would be overcome by imposing a levy on those publishers to fund the publishing of wonderful Australian books.

 Actually, Dymocks, the organisation to which I refer, doesn’t use the term ‘wonderful Australian books’. Instead, it uses the vague (but ever so clever sounding) term  ”culturally worthwhile”.

What Dymocks is arguing here (http://www.theage.com.au/national/dymocks-says-levy-could-fund-writers-20091026-hgr4.html) is that if PIRs are scrapped and this is detrimental to the production of “culturally worthwhile” books, then a one per cent levy imposed on publishers could fund a scheme to ensure that these “culturally worthwhile” books  are funded. Such wonderful logic! Let’s scrap the scheme which currently supports  the publishing industry, then, once we’ve decimated it, impose a levy on those publishers which do stay afloat to ensure they continue  to produce the quality of books they did before it was scrapped.

Only one or three holes in this argument that I can see. Firstly, publishers already currently produce “culturally worthwhile” books.  They do so because they enjoy the protection of PIRs, just as publishers in other countries enjoy similar protection.   If we want them to continue to do so, we should continue to protect them . Leave PIRs in place and no levy is necessary.

Secondly, if publishers are harmed by the removal of PIRs (and they will be), how can they then afford an extra levy placed on their diminished sales? They are being whipped twice, driving them further towards insolvency.

Thirdly, Dymocks, and its fellow members of the Cheaper Books brigade are campaigning for cheaper books – but calling for a levy which would surely increase the price of books. Not only that, but this levy would only be applied to Australian books, yet the changes they are seeking is so they can sell less Australian books by importing more from overseas. If no Australian books are being sold, where is this levy going to come from?

 I have my own suggestion for ensuring the ongoing production of ‘culturally worthwhile” books – except I prefer to call them ‘wonderful Australian books’. My suggestion? Protect the Australian publishing industry by retaining PIRs. Radical, I know, but there you have it.



  1. One must wonder how much 1% of booksellers’ profits would amount to, and whether perhaps they’d be better positioned to subsidise this noble, worthy cause! (Retaining PIRs thank you very much).

    If the government is using Dymocks to air the idea and see how it takes before courageously (sarc) coming forward with the idea itself, then perhaps it should also put forward the numbers indicating what say 1% taken out of the 10% GST on books might amount to.

    There are plenty of stakeholders in this argument. Thus far, the loudest ones don’t seem to be putting their money where their mouth is.

    As Angela says, it’s all smoke & mirrors. To mix the metaphors, it’s also a slippery slope–dangerous terrain indeed!

  2. All along we have been concerned about the effect removing PIRs will have on Australian culture.
    Now Dymocks and the coalition are pretending to be concerned too. Their proposal of a 1% levy to produce ‘culturally worthwhile’ books is a mirror designed to confuse the government of their real intentions. When the smoke clears and the mirror cracks we will see once again profit is their only concern. Hopefully it won’t be too late.

  3. You make some good points, T & Kim – and this whole 1% levy makes you wonder what it’s all really about – and whether it’s a move to try and cause discord between authors and publishers; a divide and conquer theory.

    In any debate like this, it can be hard to know what’s really going on behind the scenes.


  4. This is even more ironic than Woolworths the Freshfood People having Support Farmers days and stickers. If they didn’t you-know-what producers every other day, they wouldn’t have to have these campaigns – but then, it’s all about the seeming, isn’t it… Just like Dymocks is concerned about the future of “culturally worthwhile” Australian books. Dymocks wants the golden egg, but wants to strangle the goose.

    Imposing a levy on publishers is a neat way of later minimising government support &/or plugging a budget black hole in the Arts. Shifting responsibility. Think about it. It might start at 1%, but it won’t end at 1%. The Federal government is set to gain from this initiative even though it’s putting out other pawns to take the hits. Someone’s hiding. Where’s ‘Wally’? For that matter, where is the Minister for the Arts, and Education? Where is the PM who’s in the news every other 30 seconds? Who’s screaming this is offensive, elitist (can’t the public decide what’s worthwhile – or does it need government to do it?) and highly inappropriate – that it smacks of censorship by stealth? *crickets chirping*

    Let’s demand a “Culturally worthwhile Education Revolution”, not empty school halls and new levies on producers. Kids copy their parents’ habits. Parents read, kids read. Remove PIRs & there’ll be less Aussie content to choose, for kids and adults alike. Not a great cultural landscape to look forward to… 20/20 Summit, anyone?

    Why don’t the retailers pay the levy they so recommend? They are community minded, after all. And they’re the ones with the fat margins. Why aren’t they calling for the GST to be dropped from books if they say they can’t compete against overseas based internet booksellers who don’t have the GST impost? Who are they pussy-footing around?

    Marketers know that the word “Free” is the most powerful word in the English language. “Cheaper” must come somewhere close behind. “Culturally worthwhile” is a new one, which shouts out that what’s currently produced by and large is NOT worthwhile. What an insult! If not hosed down, this will ring the bell of the average punter who sees writers and publishing as elitist.

    This is a very crafty campaign. Fight back. Ask “Where’s Wally?” The people who should be explaining the government’s position, are no-where to be found.

  5. Dymocks seems to be getting a bit ambivalent on their engagement with the Coalition for Cheaper Books’ main agenda, that of scrapping PIRs. The ‘compromise’ of suggesting a levy on the publishing industry is an odd twist, especially, as Tim Coronel points out, it would work best if PIRs were retained.

    In my own blog on the levy suggestions I’ve likened it to wrestling with my dog, the master of the wriggle and twist. Too many questions are raised in my mind to take the levy suggestion at face value.

    I’d find Dymocks more believable if they left the coalition. Leading Edge Books, with twice the number of member bookstores than Dymocks, reject the Productivity Commission’s PIR reforms outright.

    Kim Miller

  6. Actually, the suggestion was made by Dymocks’ chair John Forsyth in a letter to MPs, not by Don Grover. Forsyth’s proposal is suggesting a variation on the PC’s Appendix F subsidy proposals — in many ways it’s less radical than the PC suggestions, in that this proposal wants to retain Books Alive, PLR and ELR as they are and to use this levy to *add* to the existing OzCo funding pool. Ironically, such a scheme would actually make more sense if PIRs are *retained*, as under the existing model the most lucrative part of publishers’ ‘portfolios’ are the overseas-originated books for which they can now hold exclusive rights: if there was a more targetted way to redirect profit from these titles into developing new Australian books, might that not be a good thing?

    • Thanks for your input Tim, and for advising us of the correct source of the letter. We have now amended our post accordingly.

      You are right that adding to the funding pool would benefit Australian writers and consequently, the increased availability of ‘culturally worthwhile’ books for the Australian reading public; but not at the expense of removing PIRs – and making authors dependent on grants and other funding schemes.

      We are not opposed to change; just change that has been rushed through without thorough impartial investigation into its ramifications, and proper consultation and negotiation with ALL the parties involved.


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