Parallel importation of books to Australia (Part 2)

Stack of Old Books by Darren Hester (via Flickr)
Stack of Old Books by Darren Hester (via Flickr)

This post is a continuation of yesterday’s post exploring the issues around parallel importation of books in Australia. To recap, part 1 talks about the 30/90 rule and summarises the arguments for and against the current legislation. Now I’m going to talk about my personal opinion regarding the issues.

Support for current legislation

Initially, I was against any change to the current legislation. I do most of my book shopping in brick and mortar stores and I never compare prices online. I figure, if I can’t afford the book on the shelf, then I ought to save up until I can or just get it from the library. As SMH journalist Malcolm Knox puts it:

A book’s real value lies in the hours it gives us in enjoyment or insight and the surprising ways it can open our hearts. A book can be a terrible rip-off at $9.99 or a bargain at $60. If a book is beyond the budget, we have one of the best library networks in the world and a wonderful Public Lending Right, which pays the author whenever a book is borrowed.

Generally, I’m also lazy and I don’t like giving out details online. So for me, it’s not a real issue because I’m happy enough with what books I do manage to buy.

I’m also cynical about booksellers arguing that an open market will reduce book prices when one of the biggest chains admits to pricing some of its books above the RRP.

Will change encourage innovation…

Then I got stuck into a 500+ comment thread on Dear Author regarding piracy and copyright and publishing, and I had to question whether I’m contradicting myself. I started to think that maybe an open market will force publishers to innovate.

…or stifle local talent?

But I just can’t convince myself that opening the market fully won’t destroy the publishing industry in Australia—an industry that, I believe, produces some excellent books and nurtures authors who may never have found overseas support. For example, would Bronwyn Parry ever have sold As Darkness Falls to a non-Australian publisher? I’d like to think so, but with so many romance novels out there, I imagine her chances would have been that much smaller.

According to the Australian Society of Authors’ submission:

Trading of rights is the commercial basis for life as an author. These rights are the saleable, income-producing parts of the bundle of rights that make up an author’s copyright. Authors can sell Australian publishing rights, rights for translation into languages other than English or
rights to an American edition. This is intrinsic to the continued livelihood of authors.

Even though I believe that the publishing and copyright law must and will change substantially, the fact is that most authors still have to make money under the current system.

US spelling bothers me

I’m also strongly swayed by the fear of homogenisation. It would bug me no end if I were to read a book set in Australia by an Australian author with US spelling—which could happen if local booksellers sourced those books from overseas. I think this would be a significant problem in the kinds of books I read—romance fiction, which is already very much US-dominated.

My stance, which is more of a straddle

So I’m going hedge my bet. I think it’s important to give the local industry a decent incentive to produce books locally. I also think it’s important that territorial copyright is enforceable, and if indeed the only way to do that and still force publishers to remain price competitive is to apply some version of the 30/90 rule, then I think that’s a fair compromise.

On the other hand, who wants to wait 30 days for an eagerly anticipated release? So I think shortening the 30/90 provisions would be a reasonable compromise. Two weeks is probably the most I’d be willing to wait for a new book, and if customers are better informed about their right to ask for a special order, that would probably help.

The Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) proposes a similar compromise, apparently drawn from the Canadian system:

a ‘straight seven-day rule’ replacing the current 30-/90-day rule, as well as ‘some form of cap on price’, meaning that in order to retain copyright on a title a publisher must be able to supply the title within seven days and within a certain price.

The big BUT

But—and this is a big BUT—I’m of the firm belief that the publishing industry and copyright legislation are in a state of flux. I think that for digital books the legislation will struggle to keep up until authors and publishers negotiate a more sensible model for distribution. As I commented on Dear Author:

it seems unreasonable to expect digital books to be subject to the same restrictions. I suppose it depends on how we treat digital books. … If they’re being sold online, I’d argue that we should treat it as a different distribution territory.

I don’t think there’s an easy answer for this one, but I find it disheartening that the Australian Publishers Association (APA) is approaching the issue with so much apparent reluctance:

…the APA was open to discussing new supply chain models.

‘I doubt that it is workable,’ [APA CEO, Maree McCaskill,] said of the ABA proposal, ‘but I guess this is the sort of discussion on supply chain efficiencies we would anticipate having going forward if territorial copyright is maintained.’

Nevertheless, I’m encouraged by some of the initiatives that individual authors and publishers are taking. But that’s fodder for future posts.

What do you think?

Anyway, I’m interested to know which issues are important to you as a reader. Is price your only concern? Do you care about the local book industry—and maybe you don’t if you only ever buy books published overseas? Do you prefer Amazon or special order through your local bookstore?

If you’re interested in other opinions regarding parallel importation, here are some more:


What do you think?

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