I was rather excited to receive my latest Amazon acquisition a few days ago, which included hardback copies of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook and Elizabeth David’s classic French Provincial Cooking. I purchased these excellent texts on French food from Amazon rather than a local retailer simply because I could land two hardback copies in Australia in roughly the same time and for the same cost as one hardback and one paperback from Dymocks’ online store. I got more for my money; had I gone for equivalent editions I would have paid less than I’d have to pay in Australia (and that includes $20 in freight charges).
On the same day I received my imported, American editions, the debate on the proposed relaxation of parallel importation rules on books got airtime on the ABC’s 7.30 Report. Quite a bit has been written about this issue lately, so rather than go over old ground I’d like to present two parallel thoughts of my own.
Firstly, the fundamental question is whether repealing parallel important restrictions is good public policy. Can the stated objectives of the policy – lower consumer prices for books – be guaranteed by changing the legislation?
I don’t believe that is the case. Public policy should provide quantifiable, absolute outcomes for Australian consumers rather than anticipated outcomes built upon ideologically biased hypotheses, which is what we’re seeing on both sides of the current debate.
The publishing industry claims Australian literary culture will be destroyed, while the Coalition for Cheaper Books (CCB) and free market ideologues say books will be cheaper – but (and this is the important question) for whom?
If either party is prepared to state categorically that their respective claims will be a consequence of the change then they should do so, and they should be very specific in their statements. Until then I believe the Australian public deserves better.
The simple fact is that there will always be Australian authors writing about Australian issues. As is currently the case, their literary output will not be their primary source of income. As to whether their works will be published, well, they can publish themselves or through businesses such as Red Hill.
Equally simply the CCB cannot guarantee that books will be cheaper at all, let alone quantify how much cheaper they would be. In fact to do so would be corporately irresponsible by every conceivable measure.
Secondly, the policy redistributes wealth from investors (publishers) to non-investing entities (retailers). Our government should be particularly concerned about any policy that provides a disincentive to investment or reduces the volume of investment capital.
So while publishers and retailers can speculate about Australian literary culture being damaged or books becoming cheaper, the one thing that is certain is that should the current import restrictions be ‘softened’, investors will have less money to invest – and that is not good for anyone.