Productivity Commission draft report

Some of you have been writing to ask me what I think of the Australian Productivity Commission’s draft report. I’ve been trying very hard to put my thoughts into words, but frankly I’m too depressed and angry. But now Michael Heyward of Text has a most excellent opinion piece in The Age:

THERE’S a lot at stake in the world of books and writing and publishing. Our industry is blossoming. We’re selling great books at home and exporting our writers in unprecedented numbers. We have a superb retail environment, with a dynamic independent sector, and a competitive printing industry that generates significant numbers of skilled jobs. There’s never been a better time to be a writer or publisher in Australia.

He’s spot on. Publishing in Australia is doing great. It’s making money and employing people. Unlike, say, the car industry, which the Australian government has been bailing out for years, we’re not asking the government for a handout. We’re not asking for a single dollar. We just want to retain a law that has helped the Australian publishing industry thrive since 1991.

Introducing parallel importing is not going to reduce the price of books in Australia. One of the book chains most heavily in favour of it already charges above the recommended retail price for bestselling books. If they really cared about making books cheaper would they do that? Removing parallel importing will increase their profit margin with little or no benefit to book consumers like myself.

The draft report’s proposal for the publication territorial copyright to expire after a year amounts to a stealth introduction of parallel importing. As Heyward says many books do much better in their second year than their first:

At Text, many of our best backlist titles have their biggest sales after the first 12 months. It’s a typical pattern. Kate Grenville’s The Secret River sold five times as many copies in its second year as in its first. We published Peter Temple’s masterpiece The Broken Shore in August 2005 and it has now sold 10 times as many copies as it did in its first year. Both of these writers are bestsellers in Britain.

It’s true for books that aren’t bestsellers. Magic or Madness sold better in its second year than its first, so has every book in the trilogy, and I sure am hoping that will also be true for How to Ditch Your Fairy.

I want my books and those of all Australian writers to be as protected as our British, Canadian and USian colleagues’ books are.1 I really don’t think that’s a lot to ask.

There’s information here if you want to submit a response to the Commission’s draft report.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, but are a little bit interested, you can find more info here, here and here.

  1. I’d also like to point out that it’s not just Australian authors who benefit from Australia retaining its territorial copyright. Australia is a very strong book market, I know many non-Australian authors who earn more from their Australian editions than from their UK editions. We Australians love to read. []


  1. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    Speaking as another lady from a culture that gets blended into the Mainstream US and UK ones too much, I think this is shocking.

    If it ain’t broke, do not fix it is a saying for a reason! The sidelining of Australian writing just so that chains can make more off books would make me very sad.

    *thinking good thoughts about them throwing out this lunatic proposal and of course for How To Ditch Your Fairy selling five times more than last year…*

  2. Justine on #

    Sarah: Bless!

    So I’m curious how does it work in Ireland? Is there a separate Irish publishing industry. I notice you’re first pub’d in UK & USA. Does that mean you have to de-Irishify your books?

  3. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    There is a separate Irish publishing industry, but most books on our shelves are published by UK publishers. We’re helped out by government grants, and the fact we have Irish language books that sell well to schools, but most writers who write for Irish publishers have to sell some of their work to UK publishers, just because it’s so much more money.

    This is pretty inevitable, as Ireland and England are so close, and England officially still owns a bit of our country, but it is not inevitable for Australia!

    My books are set in England, so thus far no de-Irishifying has been necessary, but my heart goes out to anyone for whom it was: I was very set on keeping all my Britspeak like ‘car boot’ and lucky to have an awesome US editor who let me do it. Other people, not so lucky! (The infamous ‘Mom’ usage in the US Harry Potter books springs to mind.)

  4. Amber on #

    ‘Stealth introduction’ sounds dead right.

    Sarah RB, I think you sum it up tres neatly, and should send a submission, thusly:

    Dear Productivity Commission:

    It ain’t broke.

    Just saying.

    Love, Sarah.

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