PI issue ‘goes to the heart of Australian culture’

by Sheryl Gwyther

The decision by the Federal Australian Labor Party to throw out the Productivity Commission’s recommendations was a victory for those who support the integrity of Australian authored and published books. But with all the ranting and raving by commentators in The Australian and some other newspapers you’d swear it will cause the demise of our economy.

Australian authors, illustrators, publishers, printers et al celebrated last week, but if we care about this industry it behoves us all to be vigilant because there will be no let-up from those who continue to push for total deregulation of Australian industries – including the publishing industry. (I must add that, while I’m voicing my opinion here I’m not Robinson Crusoe.)

We’ve allowed this to happen to other Australian industries in the past – in textiles, cars, petrol, shoes and food, and many Australian manufacturing and primary industries have gone to the wall. I urge you to read some of the articles from Ross Gittins, economics editor from the Sydney Morning Herald.  http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/no-such-thing-as-a-free-market-20090908-fg2o.html

We have the right to ask a pertinent question … what good has free-marketeering done for Australia already? We still face higher prices and lack of choice in supermarkets. Are clothes any better made now they pour in from Asian sweat-shops, and are good-quality shoes cheaper?

Some will call this a simplistic view of economies. But non-economists, ordinary Australians can only judge and decide on what we experience now.

Bunheang Ung's cartoon

Buy Aussie books!

In The Australian on Friday Nov 17, Peter Donoughue, a Parallel Importation supporter and publishing commentator, said – ‘the campaign against the reforms had been based on a “big lie” … and that … “the Australian book-buyer shouldn’t have to put up with high prices unrelated to today’s exchange rates, frequent out-of-stocks and slow delivery times.”

Given that the Aussie dollar exchange rate has reached amazing heights against the US dollar for well over six weeks, overseas orders would’ve been purchased at a much cheaper rate. If so, why haven’t bookshops passed on the savings by reducing their prices on overseas books sold in Australia now?

The threat of Parallel Imports of books won’t magically disappear any time soon. It is vexing is for all involved in this industry, including authors. But it also concerns many Australian readers – we know that because of the animated, passionate and concerned comments they’ve added to the SAB’s online petition.

For this reason, the SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS blog and campaign remains open.



7 thoughts on “PI issue ‘goes to the heart of Australian culture’

  1. F – while it’s true that PIRs are NOT the same thing as territorial copyright, there’s not much to separate them. Loss of PIRs would pretty much render territorial copyright useless in Australia – so if you lose one, what use is the other? As a result, the two terms have been thrown together throughout this debate.

    Neither book selling nor book publishing are high margin industries, and it is such a shame that both sides attack each other.
    I would love to see the real breakdowns – where does the money go when a book is purchased? How much goes to publisher – what are their costs? And the bookseller? We already know the authors are at the bottom of the food chain.

    When all these costs are taken into account, are our RRPs fair? That is the million dollar question.
    And even if they are fair, how does that help us when places like the US over-discount books?

    Shops that choose to sell above RRP, to my mind, only add to the problem. Nothing will drive a customer away more than knowing they are paying higher than RRP. I am happy to avoid the BIG retailers and shop in a REAL bookstore instead, and miss my opportunity to get a heavily discounted book. But I’m NOT happy to pay above RRP.

    SO much of this talk has been about Australia competing with international prices, and yet if these prices are unsustainable, why do we even want to go there? What are the long term consequences if we do?
    Perhaps we as consumers need to stop our grab for the dollar, and accept that we must pay fair value for our products. That’s not an easy prospect to accept when we see the rest of the world, and make direct comparisons.

    This problem is so much more complicated than one side simply ‘holding another to ransom’.

  2. Yet again I can’t believe the uneducated comments about bookshops and pricing.

    Bookshops have to buy the local edition Sheryl, and they are locked out of ordering almost all their titles from overseas by the rule you are fighting to keep. There hasn’t been enough time to truly impact a bookshops average shelf prices because of the miniscule amount of importing done by bookshops.

    That means it must be the prices set by publishers and distributors through the RRP that’s to blame.

    So that would be the GREEDY publishers then who are holding you to ransom.

    Thanks to ignorant comments like yours people will blame their local bookshop for expensive pricing and sales will be lost to overseas retailers anyway.

    Isn’t the whole point of your campaign to keep people buying books from local bookshops as that is the only place affected by the PIR rules

    And read Donoughue’s blog and you discover the big lie is perpetrated by who??? thats’s right it’s publishers and authors as he is referring to the misuse of the terms PIR’s vs territorial copyright

    Please reasearch your opinions properly before you post as up until now you had done just that

    • Dear F
      It was, as you’re aware, an opinion piece from me and I was referring to imported books.
      We encourage people to support their local, authentic bookstores where they’ll find people who actually know about books. But many people have noticed that some of the larger bookshops have books where the publishers’ RRP is covered up by a higher priced label. So it really is difficult to say who the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ are, doesn’t it?

      It’s unfortunate the debate got confused about the 2 issues – to us as children’s writers, the main thing of concern was the parallel import issue, and it remains the same.

      I’m glad my throwing a cracker into the blog stirred some debate, that’s what it’s all about. Although, it would’ve been even better, if you had used your real name, like I have done, rather than be anon.
      Thank you for adding your opinion – the more this issue is debated the more we can learn about it and understand.

  3. The media DOES have a lot to answer for, making people believe that price is the ONLY important factor in book-buying.
    It is indeed difficult to argue the value of books, when countries like the US are engaged in price wars that undermine the industry. Yes – books in the US are cheap, unrealistically cheap, and these prices are unsustainable. The big diversified chains (with limited range of books, because they are not actually bookstores) can subsidise book losses through other parts of their business – at least until they put the real bookstores out of business. What happens to prices then?

    In Australia, we must recognise that books DO have value, no matter what the US market leads us to believe. Yes, we shouldn’t pay the higher prices SOME bookstores charge. (above RRP!) But we must determine what is a fair and reasonable price for books – where contributors to the process receive fair recompense – and as consumers who genuinely care about our books, we must accept this.

  4. Money, politics, self-preservation…

    Of course blood will be spilled.

    I hope publishers are working hard in the background now, renegotiating terms of trade with the Coalition for Cheaper Books and coming up with a Plan B. Plan A was winning the first battle – which is still a huge victory – but another battle is firing up. We’ve bought ourselves time. Now we need to win the hearts and minds of consumers, or we won’t have people to buy our local books.

    Consumers (now, more than ever) believe they are entitled to “cheaper books”. Somehow, they have to get them, or they’ll be hunting us down in our beds. The media has a lot to answer for.

    On a more optimistic view, perhaps this will all blow over soon, once the media finds a new drama, or we get into Re-election Mode and we’ll all hear of nothing else.

  5. It’s sad, Graham. But I think if people understand what we will lose they’d change their mind – well, many of them. There are still those who couldn’t care less as long as they’ve got a cheaper copy of a first release American novel. I read a blog recently by a group of ex-pat Brits – they were ranting about the price of books here compared to the UK. None of them had a thought for any cultural considerations for this poor old colony… I don’t suppose it entered their heads.

  6. Yes, it’s amazing, isn’t it, how ready Australians are to throw away one of the bastions of their culture in return for a potential reduction in book prices, or for the sake of their free-market ideology. I run an obscure little writing blog and, even there, I couldn’t say congratulations to the campaign to keep PIRs without being pounced on by angry free-marketeers.

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