A brief primer on parallel imports: When a bookshop imports copies of a book published overseas that are also available from an Australian publisher, this is parallel importing. Parallel importing (in theory if not always in practice) gives customers cheaper books and a greater range of titles. On the other hand, parallel imports make it much harder for local publishers to survive and this reduces the support available to local authors in the early stages of their careers. Australia has a fascinating (and in my opinion eminently practical) compromise: parallel imports are allowed if a book is published overseas and no Australian publisher issues a local edition within 30 days. This may be about to change. The Australian government seems to be considering unfettered parallel importation. On to the main story…
Garth Nix happens to be one of those rare people who has worked at almost every coalface in the publishing industry. As well as being the bestselling author of the Old Kingdom novels and other series, Garth has worked as a bookseller, a publisher’s editor, and a literary agent. He knows a great deal about the business of getting books into the hands of readers.
…if Australia becomes a Surrendered Market, then there is no longer an exclusive Australian copyright territory. It essentially ceases to exist. So Australian authors have nothing to sell to Australian publishers, because any local edition can be white-anted by a US overstock, a UK remainder, or simply a perfectly legal Indian English-language edition that just happens to sell 90% of its print run in Australia. Some utopian commentators have suggested that this can be controlled by contract, that Australian authors can effectively control entire chains of supply, third-party fulfilment houses and so on. This does not reflect the reality of the publishing world.
Nix argues that abandoning the concept of Australia as a copyright territory would be bad for most Australian writers, almost all Australian publishers, and most Australian booksellers (excepting big chain retailers like K-Mart whose business is not primarily bookselling, discount bookshops selling remaindered books by the pallet, and internet retailers). You can read the rest of his article here (pdf).
In support we find Nick Earls. Dr Earls is another award-winning Australian writer (and being a general practitioner as well as a writer, is of course a noble character). He is not keen on parallel imports either.
It has been argued that we should be comfortable about parallel imports because a number of our trading partners already allow them. Two examples given are Japan and New Zealand. To look at Japan first, when it comes to the Australian writing and publishing industry’s concerns about parallel imports, the experience in non-English-speaking countries is simply irrelevant. Japan is the world’s only major creator of and large market for Japanese-language books. No other country is in a position to dump significant numbers of Japanese-language books into the Japanese market, so Japan can allow parallel imports with impunity. Japan is not a significant originator of English-language books, so has no concerns about dumping of English-language books by US and UK publishers.
NZ Trade and Enterprise’s 2004 report ‘New Zealand Book Publishing: Industry Development Issues’ stated that ‘New Zealand publishers face an inherent problem in that the domestic market is swamped by imports.’ Children’s publishing, while historically seen as a strength, was seen as threatened, with ‘dumping of children’s books’ listed by NZ publishers as one of the three most pressing issues they face.
You can read the rest of Earls’ open letter here (pdf).
Thanks to the Australian Society of Authors for putting these documents up on its website.