Australian publishing – stet*


Today, an intense year-long debate about the future of Australia’s publishing industry effectively came to an end with the announcement that the Australian Government had rejected a proposal from its own think-tank to turn Australian into an open market for books.

‘’The Government has decided not to change the Australian regulatory regime for books … In the circumstances of intense competition from online books and e-books, the Government judged that changing the regulations governing book imports is unlikely to have any material effect on the availability of books in Australia,’ said Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, Craig Emerson, in a statement.

The proposal, by the Government’s Productivity Commission, argued for the removal of protections Australian publishers and distributors currently have from competing overseas editions of the books they release in Australia. Colloquially, these are known as the 30- and 90-day rules.

Given the proposal was fought tooth and nail by a coalition of nearly all publishers, booksellers, printers and authors, there will be plenty of Australian ‘sparkling wine’ (we’re not allowed to call it champagne these days unless it’s French, which it rarely is) corks popping around the country today. The losers of the debate are Australia’s mass market discount stores and Australia’s second largest book chain, Dymocks, which took a high profile in campaigning for the change (although it had watered down its position in recent weeks as a full adoption of the change looked less likely).

‘Compromise proposals were considered,’ said Emerson, including a consideration of the Canadian price capping system, but in the end the Productivity Commission’s proposal was rejected in its entirety.

‘If books cannot be made available in a timely fashion and at a competitive price, customers will opt for online sales and e-books,’ said Emerson, clearly indicating that Australian consumers could find their cheaper prices on the internet, as they do now, if they considered Australian prices were too high for them, or if they couldn’t obtain a particular book quickly enough.

As for the book industry, there was a curt ending to Emerson’s statement:

‘The Productivity Commission report acknowledged that removing these restrictions would adversely affect Australian authors, publishers and culture. The Commission recommended extra budgetary funding of authors and publishers to compensate them for this loss … The Australian book printing and publishing industries will need to respond to the increasing competition from imports without relying on additional government assistance.’

So, we’re on our own.

Phew.

Still, it’s a shame in a way, as the debate surrounding the proposals produced some lively and entertaining exchanges, such as this one between entrepreneur and former owner of Australian Geographic, Dick Smith, and Scribe Publications’ Henry Rosenbloom. Their exchange clearly demonstrates the difficulties faced in combating a simple idea (books should be cheaper, markets should be free). Good on Henry for giving it a go.

* stet
let it stand (used as an instruction on a printed proof to indicate that a correction or alteration should be ignored). ORIGIN Latin, ‘let it stand,’ from stare ‘to stand.’

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