More expensive books are a tragedy for us all
In identifying the most revolutionary discovery or invention in human history we are confronted with a bewildering choice: from fire and the wheel, through to electricity, nuclear fission and the silicon chip. But one stands out. Simple in conception and design, but revolutionary in its impact – the printing press.
The Gutenberg bible, the first book printed with moveable type only 570 years ago, opened up the written word to all of humanity. It forced open the closed books of religion; it empowered discovery and research.
Just imagine a world without books and literacy. We would have no internet. Our knowledge would be limited to that which had been passed on by friends or acquaintances, or by those in power – be they religious or secular. For this was the world before the printing press.
Since then we have waged a war on illiteracy. Literacy is one of the building blocks of a civilised society. We set targets for developing countries to raise literacy standards as this empowers people to make better choices about their own lives. We set standards in our own country, conscious that poor literacy is a bad start in life for our own children.
Whether it is Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, the Adventures of Biggles or the modern stories of Harry Potter, we use books to entice and interest young people to read.
Which is why it is truly amazing that the Labor Government has decided to make books more expensive than they need to be.
Cheaper books make it easier to encourage young people to read, they make it cheaper for all of us to read. They include cheaper text books, one of the most expensive parts of any high school or university student budget. Why on earth would a government want to make them more expensive than they need to be? Well, we now have the answer.
You see, the Australian literary community is constantly disappointed that we do not buy enough Australian books. They don’t like us reading about Harry Potter: it isn’t ‘Australian’ enough. Ironic that these are the same people who still talk of a cultural cringe.
Essentially, everyone will be forced to pay more for books written outside Australia to subsidise those books we do not want to buy that are written by their chosen and selected authors in Australia. All the other arguments about national culture and identity are simply code for this. They want all Australians to pay more for books they don’t think are good enough or, worse still, Australian enough.
This needs to be seen for the tragedy that it is. Thankfully, the modern printing press, the internet, is there to protect us from this. Next time you want to buy a book, you can jump onto amazon.com or ebay and compare the price. You might just find that it is cheaper to buy books overseas and have them air-freighted to your front door.
The internet is to 21st century Australia as the Gutenberg press was to 15th century Europe. Like the churches in the Middle Ages, the powers trying to protect their monopoly over knowledge will be washed away by technology and we will all be better off for it.
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