I was intending to write a different post this week, but then I got cross and spat this out instead.
For some time I have been following the chatter surrounding the Productivity Commission and its draft recommendation that Australia’s parallel importation rules (PIRs) be scrapped. Sounds dry, I know. Long summary short: PIRs give Australian publishers exclusive rights that stop overseas publishers from importing commercial quantities of a book without permission.
It’s more complicated than that, of course. I do not know all the details of the law, of the recommendation, or of the arguments for and against. The thoughts expressed here are mine and mine alone.
As I understand it, the primary argument for the removal of PIRs is to make books cheaper for customers. Supporters of the repeal argue that it will thereby enable our booksellers to become more competitive, particularly against online retailers.
However, most people actually in the industry – authors, publishers, and booksellers – were appalled by the recommendation. The data used to predict lower prices was apparently years out of date; the report also failed to consider the potential effects (read: damage) to local publishers, and to local authors in particular. The PIRs are being defended as a vital safeguard that allows Australia’s comparatively small publishing industry to punch above its weight, and to benefit from international bestsellers while nurturing local talent.
These safeguards are not uniquely Australian. The UK and US have them, and have no intentions of removing them. New Zealand did remove its PIRs in 1998, and its publishing industry… has not fared well. Book prices there are not necessarily cheaper.
These points and more are disscussed in the essay collection #SaveOzStories, which I read last week. I was left uneasy and upset, worried for the Australian book industry and my future in it.
I was not, however, cross. Then I reread Richard Flanagan’s essay. He quotes a small section of the Productivity Commission’s report, and it goes like this:
The expansion of the book production industries over recent decades has attracted and held productive resources, notably skilled labour and capital, that have thereby been unavailable for use in other industries. The upshot will have been reduced growth in employment and output in other parts of the economy.
You may need to read that a couple of times.
In the view of the Productivity Commission, the publishing industry – MY industry – is sucking up people and resources that would be better employed elsewhere. My intended career is mispent time and energy, and my passion is misdirected.
That passage describes sheer contempt towards the book industries, towards storytelling and the arts as a whole. I can’t help but take it personally. I hope you also, as a reader, take it personally.
The Commission’s final report is due next month. Much of the publishing industry has joined together in a campaign called Books Create Australia; there is a petition where you can voice your concern about the proposed changes. Get involved. Share. Make some noise. If you want to find out more, #SaveOzStories may still be found at your local bookstore. If you feel like being very thorough, you can read the Productivity Commission’s draft report, along with the formal submissions for and against the PIRs repeal, here.
Be angry, please. I am.