The Guardian weighed in on the debate today when it gave a platform to Australian publisher Susan Hawthorne. Naturally, she thinks that the change in import rules, and the resulting increased competition from overseas, will be the death of Australian culture.
Hawthorne defends her position by babbling nonsense about copyright law:
Territorial copyright, the ability to retain a market for copyrighted products is under threat. It is fundamental to the publishing industry. The book publishing industry is labour and time intensive. While elements of the industry have been technologised, a great deal continues to rely on human interaction and hands-on work that precedes or follows that interaction.
Importantly, publishers in the colonising countries of the UK and USA get to retain their copyright protection. So why would the government want us to hand over Australia’s intellectual property any more than the Kidman land, a sale rejected by the government last week?
Handing over intellectual property rights is banditry. There is already little protection in Australia, and to do away with even this minimal protection as the new report suggests, is suicide for the Australian book industry. The key change is having books available within 14 days of their overseas publication date, or legally making them available simultaneously. Can we really not wait two weeks?
No one is talking about handing over, taking away, or stealing any type of IP rights; that is a straw man argument.
Aside from the name of the country, nothing in The Guardian piece is even vaguely related to the facts of the situation. If you are an Australian, you already knew that. And if you’re not, I can explain why she’s wrong in short order.
Here are the facts of the situation.
- The Australian Productivity Commission has released the draft of a report which recommends the removal of parallel import restrictions as they apply to books (other suggestions including adopting fair use, reforming the copyright term, and an orphan works provision).
- Parallel import restrictions means that Australian businesses can’t import a book if the title is also being published in Australia.
- The recommendation on book imports is the exact same recommendation the PC has been making for over seven years, and it would allow businesses to freely import books from overseas suppliers.
- The current restrictions do not apply to consumers, who can import books costing up to $1,000 and not pay duties.
Yes, the PC wants to give businesses the same import options enjoyed by Australian consumers. It’s almost that simple.
What Hawthorne is hoping you won’t realize is that Australians already buy books online from foreign retailers like The Book Depository. Even with international shipping, the books are still cheaper than the copy sold in the local bookstore because the local bookstore is forced to comply with the import restrictions.
In other words, if cheap imports are going to do any damage, it has already been done.
Far from destroying the Australian publishing industry, removing this import restriction would shift purchases from foreign retailers to local Australian retailers. This would save consumers money, increase employment in the country, and keep more money from going overseas.
Sure, Australian publishers may claim that they support local authors who would be harmed by the change in the rules, but the authors don’t see it that way:
I’m an Aussie and an ex-midlist author who had six trad-published novels released here. For decades Australian authors like myself rarely broke even for our publishers. The market and readership simply isn’t big enough for midlist writers. However, for our publishers an annual Stephen King release or (insert the name of any huge author) basically subsidised local writers. The publisher’s main source of income and profit was producing and distributing best sellers from overseas. An unfortunate side-effect of this system was that books were very expensive (and still are). RRP of a best seller could be upwards of $30 in an airport bookstore.
The problem now is that publishers aren’t supporting local writers anymore anyway. Like everywhere else, the publishers are failing to grasp a new business model in the current industry and the first casualty was midlist authors everywhere.
Dire predictions of the local industry being killed off are pointless – opportunities for Australian writers in trad publishing are already non-existent as publishers cut and slash all but the best-selling overseas authors. And no one is admitting that of those Aussie writers who still have trad contracts, only a handful pay their way.
If the legislation provides cheaper retail books in bricks and mortar bookstores, that’s got to be a good thing. Blocking it won’t “save” anyone. We’re already dead in the water.
Australia’s current import restrictions don’t serve the needs of consumers, local retailers, or authors. The only party that benefits are the publishers, who can jack up their prices secure in the knowledge that Australian retailers have no other option.
The benefits of changing this rule clearly outweigh the costs, so it is a shame that the publishers will probably get their way just like they have in the past.
Mark my words; the Australian government will accept the report, and then proceed to ignore it and instead kowtow to the local industry trade group.
Does anyone want to bet I am wrong?
image by RowdyKittens