Australia’s book industry is up in arms*. Cranky in the extreme. We’ve been done over and we’re not happy.
Why? Because the so-called Productivity Commission has made a ruling on the future of the industry that appears to be ideologically, rather than logically, driven.
What is the decision? I’m no expert but, as I understand things, it recommends the abolition of “Parallel Importation Restrictions” for books published in Australia. In other words a book printed here could be simultaneously printed el-cheapo style overseas and shipped Down Under to compete with the local editions.
Local publishers denied exclusive territorial copyright to titles, even for a limited time, will have a fight on their hands from Day One if they are to get any return from their investments.
So small Australian publishers will do it particularly tough. And that means small Australian authors will too.
Fewer publishers with the spare dosh to take risks on emerging authors means fewer local stories finding their way into print.
It might even mean local branches of large overseas publishers get slashed as most of the action will be overseas at head office. If so, authors’ opportunities to published will evaporate further.
It’s not just bad news for authors and illustrators. The domino effect means less work for designers, editors, printers, marketing folk, agents and many others.
Then there are the booksellers. Independent bookstores are a lifeline for local authors/illustrators – and they’re already endangered. If all bookstores become bulk discount outlets it will be a dark day indeed for local writers and READERS. Even if the books are cheaper, and I’m not persuaded this will be the case, you’ll need to mine the dross to find quality, small print-run titles.
Check out who is cheering the decision – mainly a specific chain store. Then go to one of their stores and try to find a book by an Australian author on their shelves if the title isn’t: a) a brand new release or b) a best seller. Good luck.
Here are some other random observations on the debate:
– While famous authors can be very eloquent, they appear incapable of 20-second grabs on TV.
– There almost seems to be an assumption that authors are well off. Believe me, very few Australian authors make a living writing full time. Many authors aim to sell Australia – New Zealand rights to their work separately from overseas rights as this is one of the few ways an author can slightly enhance their pay packet. Game as Ned, for instance, sold in Aust-NZ first, and then in Poland. These subsequent overseas sales provide vital funds that enable authors to keep writing. It would seem these secondary sales might be less likely now.
– Allan Fels obviously isn’t a struggling author. His victory smirk almost provoked me into kicking in my TV screen last night. Grrrrr.
Anyway, here’s a more learned explanation of what’s at stake, courtesy of Australians for Australian Books:
Territorial copyright for books, and the associated 30/90 day rules for book importation, have enabled the Australian book industry, long the poor cousin to the UK and US book industries, to grow strong and vibrant.
The 30-day rule means that an Australian publisher who buys the rights to publish an overseas book in Australia gains Australian copyright for the book if it is published here within 30 days of overseas publication.
The 90-day rule means that the same publisher effectively loses that protection if unable to supply the book to an Australian buyer within 90 days.
Together, these rules, introduced in 1991, provide Australian publishers with the security to invest in new books, underpinning their development of Australian talent, while ensuring new books come on the Australian market quickly and booksellers can buy the titles they need.
And there I was thinking the Productivity Commission is supposed to enhance productivity, not stifle it.
If you’re a reader, writer, illustrator or anyone who believes in protecting Australian talent, tune in to www.ausbooks.com.au for the next steps in this crucial stoush. To read the Commission’s report, click here.
* Back when I was a cadet reporter, this was one of my favourite tabloid terms for being irate. It feels like I should grab a gardening tool and storm a barricade somewhere.