31 August, 2009

Parallel imporation of books

This week I'd like to talk about a controversial subject currently before the Australian parliament - the parallel importation of books into this country. The Productivity Commission has recommended that the restrictions on overseas book imports should be lifted. A special Labor Party working group will this week recommend the restrictions be kept, to protect local authors, publishers and printing works.

Federal cabinet is split on the issue, and so am I. On the one hand as a librarian I applaud any moves that will reduce the price of books, both for our purchasing for the library but also the greater good of the community. People buying more books has got to be a better thing from lots of points of view, leading to increases in literacy and knowledge and creativity.

However I am also aware of the grave fears that authors and publishers have; that removing the current arrangements will have a detrimental effect on their industry and on Australian writing. They argue that the current restrictions enable a fairer system for authors and that publishers cross subsidise their emerging authors with well established and profitable ones. And that would not be a good thing.

One example that is often quoted is that when the restrictions on CDs were lifted some years ago, similar dire predictions were made about the local music scene and that in fact the local industry has not suffered and is flourishing. Whether it is a fair thing to compare these two creative industries or not is a moot point.

I'd like to know what you think - as The Australian says, it is an emotional debate and both sides are cranking up their lobbying efforts.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I'm personally against the productivity commission's proposed abolition of parallel importation restrictions.

The "cheaper books" argument is a bit misleading - the fact is that PIRs aren't the *reason* that books are as expensive as they are. Yes, getting rid of PIRs will lower prices of books - books from overseas, in industries that can afford to mass-produce cheaper books to a wider market.

But at what cost? There's a *reason* that the US and UK industries have PIRs, and there's absolutely no way that they will EVER abolish them, because it would be at a cost to their local industry.

Here in Australia we are incredibly lucky that we have a book industry that fosters a vibrant writing community. Yes, books cost more here, but we get what we pay for, and that's an amazingly diverse literary culture that's intrinsically Australian.

This is what we risk if we get rid of PIRs. Yes, we'll get cheaper books, but will it be worth the loss of our culture?