It’s not just about Mum or Mom…

Behind the scenes of day-to-day life in Australia a debate rages, and probably will continue until the Australian Government’s Productivity Commission takes its findings to Parliament and the politicians vote one way or the other.

It’s all about the mirage of cheaper books if Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books are lifted.

Most submissions to the Productivity Commission agree on one thing – lifting the Parallel Importation Restrictions will be a direct threat to the Australian publishing industry … from one end of the food chain to the other … from authors and illustrators (yes, we are on the lowest rung of royalty payments) through publishers, printers, agents, manuscript assessors, editors, distributors and even many booksellers.

That’s why authors feel so passionate about it.

But in my opinion, it would be a mistake to let the debate get swallowed up on SPELLING – or putting it more directly, focusing on the threat of AMERICANISED spelling under Parallel Importation (+ the fading away of our own Australian landscape, experiences, ideas and references in Australian-authored children’s books).

Sure, the thought of Americanised spelling like color and organized; Americanised terms like faucet instead of tap, vacation instead of holiday; and references to Thanksgiving, American Presidents, their Stars and Stripes and American values etc horrifies and angers many parents, teachers, librarians and anyone with a love and loyalty to the Australian vernacular and values. Unfortunately, there are also many Australians who couldn’t give a rat’s arse about a further encroaching of Americanised culture.

But let’s not get bogged down on those aspects! Sure, it is of utter importance especially in children’s and Young Adult books – but there are other deeper, insidious and more devastating effects that will appear as cracks in the Australian home-grown publishing industry.

Lifting the restrictions, even after 12 months as the Productivity Commission suggests, would risk: turning our vibrant, world-class and thriving publishing industry into a series of warehouses for imported books from overseas, especially Australian books that haven’t sold well in North America. It will also mean the loss of many, many jobs.

When a publisher accepts an author’s manuscript it is the beginning of an almost 2-year partnership before actually seeing the book in bookshops. In those 18 months a ton of thought, consideration, passion, dialogue, money and time flows between the many parties involved in the birth of this new title. There’s the author, editor, illustrator, cover designer, photographers, agent (maybe), numerous readers who ‘test-run’ the book, copyright editors, typesetters, printers, binders, publicity personnel, accountants, marketing personnel, distributors, delivery drivers, the list goes on. And that’s only one book – amongst thousands published in Australia.

There’s an image striking fear in Australian hearts … it’s already happening because our country is not immune from a global financial crisis … a rising tide of unemployed.

So who in their right minds would threaten a thriving industry that provides so many permanent, or part-time, guaranteed jobs?

And all based on the words of the ‘snake-oil salesmen’ with their illusionary promises of cheaper books. There is no certainty this will happen at all – do you know any businesses  who buy a product cheaply so they can reduce prices for their customers? That’s not how profits are made.

There are Australians who consider books to be too expensive in this country – I wonder if they are the same people who go to a restaurant for lunch and spend $20 to $40 on a meal without blinking an eye … a meal that goes in one end and comes out the other with nothing to show for it – well, not talking literally – except the wallet a bit thinner.

But they baulk at paying the same amount for a book published in Australian under the current copyright protection … a book – something concrete; something tangible to take home; something to slip out of its paper bag; open white pages of black print and smell the scent of newness.  Something that gives hours of pleasure, pain, terror, tears or  belly-shaking laughter. And then it can be put on a ‘top-shelf’ to dip into again another time, or pass on to a friend to share. That’s the value of a good-quality, carefully chosen book in Australia.

Over the past week I’ve talked to many people on the subject of the current moves to lift the Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of books – from both sides of the battleground. I can empathise with the franchisee owners of Dymocks’ stores. They don’t want a war with authors – a love of books is probably the reason they own a bookshop. They are caught up in this deception that they’ll be able to sell cheaper books to customers. And they’re also threatened by the huge, multinational retail chains of Woolworths, Target, Big W, Coles and Kmart who constantly undercut the authentic bookshops’ prices.

Talk to the manager and staff of your local, franchised Dymocks’ stores – let them know the full story behind these moves to lift the Restrictions on Parallel Importation of Books.

Go to the Productivity Commission’s website and read some of the articulate, informative and passionate submissions written by authors, publishers, booksellers and many others. You owe it to yourself as a reader; you owe it to the future of Australian books.

And if you really can’t afford to buy a book – head to your local PUBLIC LIBRARY. Where else in the world (besides Australia and New Zealand and I’ll gladly correct that if I’m wrong) would you find such a service – AND IT’S ALL FREE!

And the best thing is authors receive a tiny percentage of each book sold to a library to cover the fact these are borrowed books not sold – like a form of royalty.

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8 thoughts on “It’s not just about Mum or Mom…

  1. Hear Hear! I feel privileged to be part of such a strong and articulate writing community.

    And I am also proud to live in a country which not only allows free access to books, but also has such high literacy and literary standards.

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  2. Hear hear! I am so proud to be part of this community, albeit a hanger-on!

    And it IS wonderful to live in a country where we not only have access to free books, but where we have such high literary and literacy standards.

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  3. Great article, Sheryl. Well said. I emailed a submission to the Productivity Commission. My second, of course, seeing as this battle isn’t going away. I began my submission showing my obvious confusion.
    Surely, the reason we have the Parallel Import Restrictions in the first place is because sensible, educated people within our government decided that these restrictions were the best thing for our country and economy, not to mention the very important publishing industry. Am I wrong here?
    The fact that we’re now discussing removing these restrictions suggests that the people who created them in the first place were a bunch of morons who woke up one morning and decided to do something crazy and at odds to our Australian welfare. I don’t think so!
    The current Parallel Import Restrictions were deemed the right way to go and have been in place for many years. Obviously they’re working because the publishing industry is doing well. You know – it ain’t broke, so
    there’s no need to fix it. You’d never see this sort of thing happening in the USA, UK and Canada.

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  4. A great post on this important subject, Sheryl.

    The thing that gets me is that the Coalition for Cheaper Books is made up of ONE bookstore (Dymocks) and department stores such as Kmart and Target – whose core business is NOT selling books. The Australian Bookseller’s Association (representing other booksellers) has made a submission to the Productivity Commission saying they are NOT seeking changes to the Parallel Imortation Laws. So why does Dymock’s hold so much sway with the Commission? And why are these other booksellers being ignored?

    And are we really to believe that the members of the Coalition for Crappier Books really have the desire for cheaper books as their main motivator? These are businesses – their first priority is to make money. If they can source books more cheaply, there is no guarantee they’ll pass those savings on to consumers. In NZ, when they removed the protections, the price of books did not decrease – but the damage to the publishing industry has been documented.

    Why change the laws when there is no evidence that it will result in cheaper books?

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  5. Well articulated, Sheryl.

    There are so many reasons why we should fight to keep Parallel Importation Restrictions in place. It’s not about money and it’s not about spelling.

    It’s about giving Australian readers books that they can relate to – telling our stories and telling them well. It’s about quality.

    It’s important to recognise the worth and the efforts of everyone involved in the book’s creation, from idea to bound pages. Because the final product on the shelf is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Writing requires talent, discipline, passion and determination. Australian writers have that. They strive for perfection. That’s why Australia publishes such high quality books. Books that we all can be proud of.

    Let’s keep it that way!

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  6. Linking the issue to loss of jobs is an important one, Sheryl, and one where I think we can gain a lot of mileage with the pollies.
    Keep up the great work,
    Maree

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  7. Very eloquently and sincerely put Sheryl. And you make so many good points; how many businesses lobby the government when it’s not about their own bottom line? We need to keep sight of the real issues in this debate and you have covered them so well in your blogpost. I will be recommending this to others who want to be informed about the very real threat to the Australian publishing and book industries.

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  8. As a fellow children’s writer, I applaud Sheryl’s strong and sensitive statements. Last Thursday I stood alongside Brisbane writers as they held a peaceful protest outside the large city-based Dymocks store. Like them, I raised a plackard, handed out leaflets and spoke to people in the street, who were, by and large, oblivious to what is happening in the world of Australian creators and the publishing industry. The protest gained much media interest, but there’s more that we can do.
    Can I urge everyone who reads this blog, to forward it to at least three other people whom they consider might be interested. Let’s all get together and alert as many people in the book-reading world as possible!

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