Parallel Lives

Last week, the Turnbull Government effectively decided to scrap Australia’s parallel importation rules, which have helped protect and support the Australian book industry – authors, publishers, booksellers – over many years.

I suspect that many lovers of reading will be rejoicing at paying less for their favorite titles but, as ever, the decision will have tremendous ramifications for writing in this country.

Does it mean that cheap overseas titles will flood our bookstores and elbow our local titles off the shelves? Maybe.

This week Samantha Forge at Kill Your Darlings touched on the tricky balancing act of publishing – its art/commerce imperatives and how it contributes to Australian culture. She also makes the point that

removing PIR will not lower the price of Australian-originated books. The production costs for Australian publishers – for editorial, design, printing, sales, marketing and distribution – will be the same as before (if not higher, because print runs will inevitably be smaller in response to decreased demand for locally-published books).

All true. And another point worthy of mention is that Australian authors and publishers want their work to be read as widely as possible. While international rights sales don’t always mean big bucks, they are an indication of the currency of ideas and are always a huge fillip to both author and originating publisher. In removing PIR, though, those lucky Australian writers and publishers who had editorially worked so hard to produce a wonderful work and then sold it overseas will likely find a UK or US edition appearing alongside the original at a much greater discounted price. The lower-priced item means that neither the author nor the publisher is remunerated for their toil. An export copy royalty might be 3–5% of rrp for the author, less than half of what they would receive via the ANZ edition.

Our writers are already having a tough time of things. In Macquarie University’s October report on Australian authors, it stated that writers’ average annual income was $12,900 and acknowledged that many authors work ‘long hours in a variety of jobs to make ends meet’.

Good writing is hard and it takes time, and so it is with good editing. I want to see outstanding Australian books published and read, as I expect you do, so we need to buy quality Australian books to ensure that there is an industry.

The Conversation’s most recent article on this, ‘Read It and Weep’, focuses on the power of the autonomous consumer:

The issue of parallel imports will not go away. It has been a regular point of debate since the first Australian book trade inquiries at the start of the 20th century. Then, as now, the issue was that the price advantage accorded to imported texts worked against the sale of Australian manufactured books, which seemed unreasonably expensive in comparison.

The added pressure today is that the book trade is now competing with its customers.

The customers’ preference for buying ebooks and buying online, bypassing bricks-and-mortar stores, is highlighted in this piece.

I’m interested in better books rather than cheaper books, and it’s my hope that when you’re buying Australian writers’ works you buy them locally and from the originating publisher. And for those of you with a passion for buying online and not the high street or mall, there are alternatives to Amazon – Booktopia, Boomerang Books – that are still on Oz soil.

Happy reading!