Freeing up the books market is great news for readers
The Productivity Commission’s recommendation for the removal of parallel importation restrictions on books is a cause for celebration for book lovers in Australia.
By that I mean the millions of Australian consumers who will benefit from the removal of these outdated protectionist measures.
The books debate this time round (there have been five earlier reports to Government - all but one recommended the full removal of protection, while the fifth recommended partial removal) has predictably been dominated by hysterical doomsday claims from authors and publishers.
Their mantra has been “the sky will fall in if anything like an open market is formally introduced.” These claims are not only exaggerated and baseless; they demonstrate how much the publishers and authors have missed the point. The Open market is already here.
Any book consumer can tell you that books are freely available over the internet cheaper than they are in Australia. Certainly we at Dymocks know it because our customers have told us.
A few months ago we invited the Dymocks’ Booklovers Club members to sign a petition calling for the removal of parallel importation restrictions. 18,400 petitioners signed up in 48 hours. 3,000 of them provided comments and lest any publisher out there is in any doubt about consumers’ views, they only need look at the remarks to find consumers think books are too expensive because of protection. Check them out at www.cheaperbooks.com.au.
Time and time again we heard from consumers saying they would prefer to support Australian jobs by buying their books from Australian bookshops but they simply couldn’t afford to pay the prices in Australia and headed for the internet. It is as if their hearts were saying buy local but their heads were telling them to go online.
Dymocks, like all other booksellers in Australia have to compete with online sellers who access much cheaper wholesale prices in the bigger and competitive markets in the UK and US.
We do so currently with one hand tied behind our backs because the protection provided to local publishers, means they charge much higher wholesale prices than they could in a competitive market.
Internet sales are currently estimated to be around 5% of the Australian book market though no one would argue that this proportion is declining and it is very likely to head towards the US market share of 22%. If that happens while wholesale prices remain uncompetitive in Australia, jobs and businesses will be lost in the Bookselling Sector.
That is why we continue to call for the immediate removal of protection. We don’t believe the book industry can wait 3 years for these changes. Booksellers can’t afford to continue to compete with internet suppliers whose market share will just keep rising while we pay inflated wholesale prices over the next 3 years.
Consumers want cheaper books and are accessing the internet more and more to get them. It is the internet that has rendered protection for local publishing out of date.
The facts about the open market for books in New Zealand and the open market in recorded music in Australia over the past ten years have seen both markets grow and prosper.
Last year a record amount of royalties was paid to a record number of recipients for sound recordings in Australia. Hardly the sign of an industry in decline.
There are more publishers in New Zealand today employing more people.
New Zealand book exports have nearly doubled since 1998.
Investment in the New Zealand Book Industry has increased as has the number of New Zealand books published while the New Zealand Printing Industry has fared better than its Australian counterpart without parallel importation restrictions. There are simply no rational reasons why the same won’t occur for Australian publishers, authors and printers.
The harbingers of the death of the Australian book industry under an open market should have a close look at the facts regarding these two examples rather than their preconceived and self serving opinions.
Fortunately our lawmakers are generally more in touch with the mood of the community. Let’s hope they realise on this occasion that the community want cheaper books and they want them now.
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