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The True Cost of Cheaper Books

A debate is raging and raging hard in the Australian publishing industry. Yeah woteva you may scoff but as readers of books, or as people with pretensions of reading books, this does effect you.

Some time ago, the Australian Government asked the Australian Productivity Commission (APC) to have a look at whether or not the parallel import restrictions (PIRs hereafter) which were introduced in 1991 are still a good idea.

It has been argued quite elloquently by Henry Rosenbloom that these PIRs have allowed a comparative renaissance in the Australian literary scene at a time when global trends were at best stagnant.

My understanding of the PIRs is that basically it has meant that Australian publishers got a level of trade protection to print what they wanted rather than having overseas interests decide which of their books we wanted and when we were going to get them.

The two sides in this argument seem to be the book industry itself, comprised of authors (Tim Winton in his acceptance of this years’ Miles Franklin prize for Breath put the boot into the proposal), editors, publishers, printers, independent book shops etc. in the one corner and the APC, former NSW Premier and noted literary mind Bob Carr and the Dymocks book store chain on whose board he sits.

To get you up to speed on this issue we turn to Radio National.

Late Night Live on June 29th 2009 aired this heated discussion between a redoubtable Bob Carr (who published his pro-free-market opinions in The Australian) and Louise Adler, CEO of Melbourne University Publishing :

mp3 - 11mb - 24 minutes

Then last week on 15th July as the announcement from the final report from the Australian Productivity Commission came down in favour of scrapping the PIRs, Fran Kelly talks to Mike Woods deputy chairman of the APC, who explained again about how Australians were not buying books because they were too expensive, and how the PIRs have resulted in an industry that is prone to inefficiency.

mp3 - 4.1mb - 8 minutes 53 secs

Interestingly, Mr Woods does admit that Australian authors do tend to get significantly reduced royalties from books sold here printed by international publishers, some 6% rather than the 10% offered by local publishing houses. Hardly an incentive. Woods also advocates subsidy or grant schemes as a way of supporting local authors in a more accountable way.

At around the same time, Henry Rosenbloom published an angry but empassioned blog post in which he argued that nothing less than Australia’s cultural integrity was at stake and that:

…referring this subject to the Productivity Commission is like asking duck-hunters what they’d like to shoot.

and that even in the very best case scenario:

…some of the time, in some circumstances, some booksellers might be able to import cheaper books.

Later that day, Mr Woods got another chance to air his views on the Book Show. Here he responds to the suggestion that it would be easier to do away with GST on books which may level the field significantly.

mp3 - 4.6mb - 10 minutes 8 seconds

The next morning, the 16th July, Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast also spoke to Louise Adler, still desperate to get her point out in the absence of Mr Carr.

mp3 - 3mb - 6 minutes 22 seconds

So the decision now rests in the hands of the Australian federal government, and while they ruminate on the pro’s and cons of arguably destroying the local literary industry, I thought I’d canvas your opinions on the subject.

If at the bottom of this ugly heap is getting more Australians to read books, is a price reduction of a few bucks really going to make a big difference?

Would any of you read more books if they were cheaper?

Would you really read more if books were a couple of bucks cheaper? Would it be pertinent to observe the the cheaper makets in the US and UK may be cheaper because they have larger populations of book buyers to work with?

How important is price to your reading habit:

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