Coalition for Cheaper Books: 10 reasons why I won’t be signing your petition

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1. I don’t trust you. Emailing a customer mailing list with your political agenda is dodgy. Also dodgy is pretending to be something other than a group of chain retailers lobbying the government to change the law so you can increase your profits.

2. We don’t need to change copyright law to buy cheaper books. Readers can buy online. Not only do we take advantage of cheaper prices overseas, but we don’t have to pay GST. The Book Depository doesn’t even charge for shipping. I don’t see you lobbying to have the GST removed from books, or to have the government enforce the GST on overseas companies. Maybe it can’t. That’s not my fault.

3. Not everyone buys books according to price. The experience of being in a bookstore is what I want when I go into a bookstore. Otherwise, I’d buy online. I like seeing a book, touching it, reading the blurb and maybe a few pages. I can’t do that online.

4. I never find the books I want in your stores. Actually, this isn’t quite true. K-mart and Target are great for Blazes and some of the more popular romance titles. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that Dymocks keeps shunting its romance section farther and farther into the store. Maybe romance readers aren’t buying from you, but since I hardly ever find what I do want in stock, I’m not surprised.

5. I can’t have a decent conversation about books in your store. The reason I buy books from Galaxy, despite often having to pay a few dollars more, is the staff. They’re friendly, they recommend books, and they don’t treat their customers like cattle. I tried Booktopia because of my long conversation with the General Manager on ebook readers. I ordered over $100 worth of books from Romance Direct because Jill, the owner, bent over backwards to get me a copy of Angel’s Blood. At Dymocks, I had to travel to THREE STORES looking for Travels with Herodotus only to find out each time that they were sold out.

6. Your ebook reader and ebook pricing sucks. You launched digital books and offered the Iliad for almost $900 with some ebooks costing over $10 to download. Good god, do you think your customers are idiots? To add to the insult, you shoved the Romance section in your George St store to make way for the digital book display. It’s almost impossible to get to the books if you have a pram or use a wheelchair.

7. Your price comparisons are misleading. I’m not sure how you got the figures you quote in your submission to the Productivity Commission, but the draft report acknowledges that there is insufficient data on the book sector. The Australian Booksellers Association, in its submission, states that it “holds no reliable data on price comparisons”.

8. You have no idea if removing parallel importation laws will reduce prices. When Borders and A&R are pricing above the RRP for some books, forgive me for not believing that booksellers are in the business of lowering their prices. And in my chat with Tony from Booktopia at the Australian Romance Readers Convention, I asked point blank if he had a position on parallel importation. His reply? “It doesn’t matter.”

9. Books are not your business. Target, K-mart and the other general retail stores in your consortium aren’t in the business of selling books. It’s just another commodity for them. Well, books aren’t a commodity for me. And if they were, I’d switch to ebooks because I could get them faster and more cheaply. Dymocks’s acquisition of Heathy Habits tells me that you are, in fact, thinking of moving out of the book business. Why is it that the Australian Booksellers Association supports the preservation of territorial copyright and you don’t?

10. Your letter is misleading and contains half-truths. You claim that “Under the Dymocks proposal, copyright will still be protected; authors will still receive royalties and publishers will still be paid for the rights they hold.” You don’t differentiate between territorial copyrights, which are associated with different royalties, and you fail to mention that the US and the UK enforce laws to preserve their own territorial copyrights. You conveniently ignore the single use provisions and never mention it once in your submission to the Productivity Commission. In your submission, you invoke the New Zealand experience, yet fail to acknowledge that there many people in the book industry consider it a failure in terms of protecting copyright and reducing prices. By your own admission, the figures you cite are ambiguous. Yet the Canadian example (cited by the ABA in its submission) shows that regulatory forces can in fact be used to help lower the cost of books (pp 9-10).

In your letter you state: “Dymocks believes that the Australian book industry should be driven by the Australian book buyer”. If only that were true.

For an overview of parallel importation in Australia, see my previous posts: Part 1, Part 2.


  1. Kat says:

    Thanks, Christine! I saw your post on the Brisbane protest—good luck! You know, I wouldn’t have minded the Dymocks email so much if I actually thought they cared as much about readers as they do about profits.

  2. DanR says:

    Good one – posted to my Facebook page, the Facebook group Australians for Australian books & retweeted via my twitter page danr69.

  3. Dee White says:

    Good on you Chris,

    I couldn’t agree more. The pathetic stocks of Australian books in department store/book chains already forces their customers to buy online. Removing PIRs will only make it worse.

    Independent booksellers give a reader far more choice, have far better advice, and are so helpful in getting a book into store for a customer.

  4. Excellent article. Not every Australian book seller is in the business of usurping the rights of authors and Australian publishers just to make a few extra bucks. We are in the book business primarily because we love books (although we have less time than we have ever to had actually read a book). As a member or the ABA we support the position they have taken on this issue and hope that the productivity commission look closely at what has happened internationally before ruling on this.
    You correctly stated in your article that ‘Target, K-mart and the other general retail stores in your consortium aren’t in the business of selling books. It’s just another commodity for them’. I couldn’t agree more. These retailers should let the people in the “book business” get on with nurturing and growing the industry while they in turn, should concentrate on cheap clothing and sandwiches.

  5. Kat says:

    Dee White, for romance readers, there’s really no other option but to go online or buy from an specialist romance bookseller to get new releases by new and midlist authors. I rely a lot on personal recommendations to try new authors, and I can never get that from Borders or Dymocks.

    AOB, I liked the ABA’s recommendations to change the 30/90 rule and I was impressed by the facts and sources they cited to support their position.

  6. Reading Dog says:

    Excellent, Bookthingo! Ex-Premier of NSW Bob Carr, now on the board of Dymocks Boksellers pissed me off mightily the other day with his spurious arguments and polemical style, claiming an open market would ‘lift literacy’ in Australia – as though it had nothing to do with Dymocks’ profits. This will be a monopolising change to the booktrade, substantially contracting the local publishing industry and further squeezing independent booksellers. The result may be a short-term drop in book prices in the chain stores, until the monopolies takes hold, then swiftly followed by a steady price rise…

  7. Kat says:

    Thanks, Daniela.

    Reading Dog, much as I disagree with Carr and Dymocks, I think they’ve done a good job of winning consumers over with their arguments. Authors and publishers have been pushing the cultural/royalties argument, but at the end of the day, many consumers are focusing on price. I think it was a mistake not to sell the pro-PIR argument based on consumer interests such as price, convenience, etc. as well as talking about alternatives to completely abolishing PIR, such as shortening the 30/90 provisions. Still, I was surprised at the Commission’s recommendations given that the majority of submissions seemed to me to be against removing PIR and the lack of reliable price comparison data.

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