Earlier this year the Productivity Commission released its draft proposal with recommendations for changes to Australia's IP laws, including the recommendation (for the umpteenth year in a row) that Australia drop its ban on book imports, or parallel import restrictions. This is a semi-annual report, and it's also an annual tradition for the report to be ignored after various industries bring pressure to bear on politicians.
And it looks like 2016 will be no exception.
WA Today reports that James Kellow, CEO of HarperCollins Australia, told the PC that the local publishing industry will shrink if the import ban is dropped.
A halving of the number of Australian books published each year was "not out of the question" were the federal government to open the book market fully to foreign imports, according to Australian publisher HarperCollins.
Longer term, return-to-sale agreements, which allowed booksellers to take a gamble on new titles and authors and receive a credit on unsold books, would also likely disappear, the Productivity Commission has been told.
Speaking on Tuesday at the first Sydney hearing into the commission's draft recommendations into intellectual property rights, HarperCollins Australia's chief executive officer, James Kellow, warned contraction would almost certainly follow the axing of import restrictions.
Where HarperCollins New Zealand once employed 40 people and publish 45 books a year, it now employed nine people and published between 15 and 20 books annually.
Both Australia and New Zealand had weathered the rise of Amazon and the advent of e-books, but only New Zealand had repealed parallel import rules.
There's no dispute that the book publishing industry is hiding behind a protectionist economic policy, but what HC is leaving out is that most of the books which would be affected by the lifting of this ban were originally published in other countries, and then licensed to Australian publishers which published a high-priced local edition secure in the knowledge that they would have mass imports would be blocked (consumers can still order from overseas, though).
Drop the import restrictions and the foreign books in question will still be available in Australia, just not from local publishers.
Coincidentally, consumers would also have freer access to foreign editions of titles originally published in Australia, and that could be a problem for local publishers. As one reader explained, the US edition is usually a lot cheaper:
Books in Australia are published under the British pricing, which means that they are usually a lot more expensive than the US version.
I remember buying books from BookDepository, when they had both the US and British editions, and the US edition was usually less than half the price. With free shipping, getting the US version was a no-brainer.
If those books could be freely imported then Australian publishers would no longer be able to charge higher prices for the books they publish. They'd have to match the lower price, and clearly they don't think they can.
Is that good enough of a reason to keep the import restrictions?
Or if we turn it around, should consumers be forced to continue subsidizing Australian culture out of their pocketbooks?
image by randz