Thursday, July 23, 2009

Save Aussie Books

Between homebirthing, uranium mining and whether or not Michael Jackson was murdered (oh, sorry, everyone was over that one before it began, really, weren't they?), there's a lot to be fired up about at the moment.

But top of my list right now is the issue of parallel imports for books--because there's still a chance we can do something to stop the Government going ahead with these ridiculous changes.

If you haven't heard much about the proposed changes to local laws on the importing of books, I urge you to take a look at Saving Aussie Books to find out more about the devastating impact these new laws will have on the Australian publishing industry.

Despite an outspoken campaign by authors, publishers and even many booksellers, the Productivity Commission last month recommended the Federal Government lift all restrictions on parallel importation of books on the basis that it will result in cheaper books for Australian consumers.

Publishers and authors would retain territorial copyright on works for only the first 12 months of a book's life, after which time booksellers could purchase any edition from any source in the world. Foreign editions characteristically pay a much lower royalty.

The US, Britain and Canada all support territorial copyright for books--so why would we put our own authors and industry at risk?

Writer Sally Rippin told me she was talking to a NZ author recently who said the independent bookselling scene has been annihilated there because of the introduction of these same laws.

One of the other risks of this new globalised market is that publishers will probably prefer bland books that can easily cross borders.

As writer Sheryl Gwyther has said: “Do you want to see Australian children reading books without Australian content and Americanised with Mom instead of Mum or faucets instead of taps, and vacation instead of holiday?”

Children’s writer Mem Fox agrees: “It’s tantamount to firing the entire writing workforce in Australia and outsourcing it to other countries, who will in turn change the vocabulary and cultural references that the outsourcing country finds difficult to grasp.

“This, in its turn, would mean in our case that particularly Australian books would not be published. … No go for a book like Possum Magic, then, with a huge loss to readers and local cultural capital.”

Fox earns 5% for each book sold — 64¢ on a $12.95 paperback of Possum Magic. Losing territorial copyright would reduce her royalty to 29¢. “It makes my old WorkChoices contract look like a gift from a fairy godmother,” she says.

Australian publishers including Text’s Michael Heyward, Scribe’s Harry Rosenbloom and Hardie Grant’s Sandy Grant have all defended the current system, crediting it with creating the “energy” in the nation’s most successful cultural industry and encouraging publishers to nurture their writers.

The changes would transform Australia from a publishing centre to a marketplace, Grant has warned.

Gwyther is leading the Saving Aussie Books campaign to increase the pressure on the Federal Government to reject the commission's report. “This corporate campaign to do in Australian authors and small independent publishers and bookshops is being ably run and organised by the giant corporations,” she says.

“Are we prepared to let Coles and K-Mart monopolise the economic, political and cultural agendas?”

Please get involved. This issue is too important to ignore.


Angela Sunde. said...

I agree.
The market control that Woolworths and Coles now hold over petrol pricing and groceries will soon be extended to include books. Together with Dymocks they have been lobbying for the lifting of the current restrictions on the parallel importation of books. They have pushed the 'cheaper books' slogan by calling themselves the Coalition for Cheaper Books and have managed to convince the Productivity Commission. However, I and many others are not convinced.
By hiding behind this collective name, the 'Coalition' has duped the email list of Dymocks into signing a petition. I have seen this petition and it guaranteed cheaper books for the consumer. But there is no guarantee. These retail giants are not obliged to pass on any savings to the consumer that the lifting of PIRs might present. In fact they have a history of not doing so. In their submission to the Productivity Commission, Penguin Australia stated: "At the moment two of our biggest chains are selling many titles significantly above RRP".
According to industry sources Kmart and Target (Coles Group) demand up to 70% discount on the RRP from the publisher. (By comparison the author (I am not published) receives less than 10% of the RRP.) Then they go and add a few dollars extra over the RRP. Do you really think they're all about delivering cheaper books? I don't think so.
A side effect from this will be all the small businesses that will go under: the independent booksellers, the smaller publishing houses, and their distributors. Sound familiar?
But even more concerning will be the loss of our 'Australian Voice' and the impact this will have on our children's literacy.
Australian children need books that reflect their world, their culture and history.

Rachel Fenton said...

I agree that each country should put its home spun arts first, but from what I've read just in this post, it sounds more like you are mainly anti-American/capitalist, and I think there's a danger that your good points re supporting Australian literature are being lost behind a wall of insular fear, boardering on zenophobia. Just an observation, mind.

little red hen said...

I don't think that you sound in any way anti-american. I think you are quite rightly pointing out that if we no longer have Australian publishers then our culture will be lost or rather not represented. As a school teacher I find this alarming as kids learn to read better when there is a contextual understanding of what is being read.
I am already dismayed at the amount of 'americanisms' the children have absorbed by watching a majority of american TV. For example my own son would insist on calling our prime minister the president no matter how often I corrected him he would say 'It's the same thing" and the number of children who tell me you need to ring 911 in an emergency is a worry.

katiecrackernuts said...

Thank you so much for this post. I knew nothing of it. Can't believe there hasn't been more in the press. Have I just missed it? Every library should have something about this. Every bookstore.

Rachel Power said...

Just a throwaway observation, Rachel? A pretty provocative one then! I'm not sure that you can be xenophobic towards America, if that's what you're implying. As for capitalism, I concede that we have not yet found a more workable system, but I do think there's a place for guarding against the extremes of any system. In the case of our current economic system, I do think we see the interests of people and cultures all over the world sacrificed to the interests of big business and the wealthy few. The argument against parallel imports is not a racist one; it's the opposite. I want books that reflect a writer's intention and cultural context, wherever they're from, and not dumbed down or reworked to suit a dominant culture. I also don't want to see individuals or smaller, independent enterprises swallowed up by giant monopolies--that is absolutely true--precisely because I believe in diversity. Who's going to stock a novel that might only sell 3,000 or so copies? Not K-mart, that's for sure.

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