If you’ve been following the debate on the parallel importation of books in Australia, The 7.30 Report ran a segment yesterday on the debate. Unfortunately, it didn’t look past the usual rhetoric surrounding the issue.
In fact I don’t think the segment even highlighted all the main arguments on either side or the parallel importation debate. I’m particularly frustrated by the final comment from Allan Fels, former ACCC chairman, Dean of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government:
It’s also claimed that Australian books in fact are priced much the same as the rest of the world. I don’t agree. But if it is true, what have we got to fear from removing the import restrictions?
What we fear is that change might actually harm the industry, and specifically local authors. Which is why I find it strange that the Productivity Commission would recommend removing restrictions while acknowledging that there’s not enough information about book prices and consumer behaviour.
When price comparisons are made in the media, I’m never sure if they’re using comparable bookstores. For example, I can compare Dymocks prices to K-mart prices—both local booksellers—and no doubt there’s going to be a significant difference. Similarly, a purely online, though locally based, bookstore such as Booktopia or Fishpond often sell books more cheaply than Dymocks online.
Supporters of an open market have also pointed to the music industry, and the effect of opening the market on CD prices and the local industry. I’d argue that music and books are not at all comparable—or, at least, musicians and authors are not as similar as the commentators would have us believe.
For one thing, musicians have a natural market in performance. There’s no equivalent product, if you will, for authors. A book reading isn’t comparable to a music concert. Even if we argue that things like reader conventions can be sources of income for authors, I doubt they’d be able to charge as much as a musician would for a concert.
According to the segment, the Productivity Commission’s final report is due to be published in a week. The reactions will be interesting.
A transcript of the segment is available on the ABC website, including links to download the video.