The cost of cheaper books

June 11, 2009 at 1:07 am Leave a comment

Yesterday I wrote about a rights grab by Google Books, starting with out-of-print and orphan books, and a settlement that assumes US copyright holders have forfeited their e-book rights to GBks unless they tick the ‘No’ box.

There is another territorial rights fight in progress, this one in Australia, over access to ‘cheaper books’ for consumers. The government is considering removing or reducing book importation limits for books simultaneously published in Australia and also elsewhere (PIRs), with the idea that this will reduce book prices in Aust.

As a background, the average price in Sydney of a new release paperback ranges from AUD$27-33. Hard covers can retail up to $45-55. Prices are frequently higher the further out of city you live. The avg price of same are USD$15-17 and $25-29 respectively in the US, and GBP£8 and GBP£13 respectively in the UK (scratchy comparison that).

Why the fight you say, after all, cheaper books are a good thing. Well, first of all, the RRP on the back cover is not the bottom line. When we consider postage and handling charges, sales, loyalty discounts, internet bookstores, currency exchange, e-books etc, the final bill can vary greatly. This is especially true for overseas consumers who hope to get a bargain–ignoring exorbitant shipping charges–or early releases, or who can’t get the same book domestically.

Secondly but more importantly, the restriction on PIRs help protect the local publishing industry and in turn, this enables Australiana voices to flourish in the little breathing space available before cheaper imports and external English cultures are dumped into our market. Australia has less than a tenth the population of the USA and about a third of the UK, yet we spend $2.5 billion a year on new books alone. Our independent bookstores and small publishers are surviving. So obviously, there are other less easily quantifiable benefits conferred by maintaining PIRs.

For these reasons and more, there is a real pushback from writers and publishers against lifting current import restrictions. The proponents of the review are, no surprise, the big bookstores. Shades of Borders and B&N, perhaps?

In current economic clime, the cry for cheaper books of equal value might be overwhelming. Australians likely feel more entitled as they have been chaffing under high prices for a long time, partly due to geography, partly volume  and perhaps, partly due to the PIRs. As a buyer of lesbian lit, I have little choice but to sometimes buy from overseas–either way LGBT books are always priced higher.

Two points swayed me: USA and UK have their own competition barriers protecting their publishing industry, and in New Zealand–the only other English market to open it’s doors to unrestricted imports–the effect has been disastrous for the local industry and worse still, prices of books have not decreased. I hope the consultation keeps this in mind.


Productivity Commission’s discussion draft on Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books, public submissions and the final report.

Richard Flanagan says it better at SWF 2009.

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Entry filed under: Competitions, It's bizness, Literary related news, Shopping. Tags: .

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Evecho’s newsy bits

News, updates and links from the lesbian and publishing ‘verse that interest me, my current projects, keeping up with authors and sharing musings on middle-class life, gourmet adventures and comparisons between East/West perspectives. My opinions will likely be linearly logical and gayly bent, as they tend to be.