Basically there are plans to allow booksellers to import foreign English-language editions of books into Australia without restriction. The argument is that this will bring down the heinous price of books. Australian books really are insanely expensive. I’ve seen mass market paperback for more than AU$20.1
However surrendering the Australian market is NOT the way to fix that problem. As Garth writes
I am surprised there is support for an “open” market in Australia because it would be no such thing. It would actually be a “surrendered” market. The entire publishing world still works on the basis of territorial copyright and it will do so for a long time to come, despite electronic editions and the Internet, of which I will have more to say down the page. This is particularly the case with English-language publishing. The USA and the UK have actually been strengthening their respective book copyright regimes, not surrendering them. What is “open” about Australian-published books not being able to be sold in the USA or the UK, but American, British or any other English-language edition from anywhere being able to be freely sold here?
Internet retailers would be able to sell books much much cheaply than real world booksellers because they don’t have to worry about attracting passing customers and thus can have their operations out in the much cheaper boondocks. Unlike the real world booksellers who not only pay higher rents but have to make sure their book shops are well-kept and inviting to customers. They also have to pay more staff. And the bigger the internet retailer—like Amazon—the easier it would be for them to sell books cheaper and wipe out all competition. Parallel importing would be a disaster for local booksellers. Just as it would be a disaster for local publishers.
It would also make it a lot harder for Australian writers to get published:
But besides the Australian publishers and booksellers, you know who would really be affected by a Surrendered Market? Beginning authors, like I was, twenty years ago, when my first book was published by an Australian publisher, and sold by Australian bookshops. That same beginning author, in a brave new world of a Surrendered Market, would likely have only small presses to go to here, or needs must go straight into competition against every English-speaking author in the world who wants to be published in the USA or the UK.
The majority of Australian writers will tell you how difficult it is to get published overseas. The introduction of parallel importing means that will be their only option.
Like Garth I am not speaking from narrow self-interest as the introduction of parallel imports is unlikely to have much of an affect on my career because I am primarily published out of the USA. But Australia is my country and I care passionately about developments that will dramatically reduce the number of Australian books in the world.
I have friends who have not been picked up by publishing houses in the US and the UK because their books are “too Australian” and not sufficiently “universal to have appeal outside Australia”. Whether that’s true or not (I can think of any number of extremely Oz books that have been published to great success in the US) it is true that if you are mainly submitting to a foreign market it will affect how you write. Killing off the local Australian publishing industry is going to kill off many uniquely and wonderfully Australian voices.
I think that will be a disaster.
- The US and Australian dollars are approaching parity. [↩]