Just Another Nail in the Coffin

With Scott Morrison’s proposed changes to parallel importation regulations (PIRs) for books in Australia, wannabe authors are looking at an increasingly dire career choice…

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After the confusion of the e-book and the rise of electronic retailers such as Amazon and Book Depository, the life of the writer already looks bleak, but it is set to grow bleaker. With an average yearly income of less than $13,000, making a living as an author feels like a fleeting dream. Morrison’s changes to parallel importation regulations (PIRs) are set to put the last nail in the coffin for what most perceive as a romantic career. Not only will these changes affect authors (who look to be published traditionally) but publishers and readers as well.

Parallel importation is the importation of a product into a country without the intellectual owner’s permission. The proposed changes to the current PIRs regarding books mirror those that were propositioned in 2009 (and subsequently thrown out thanks to the efforts of a number of authors, publishers, and readers) and involve the complete abolition of these restrictions. This means that retailers would have access to international versions of books at a cheaper price than a local publisher could offer.

Without PIRs, Australian publishers would be at a severe disadvantage compared to publishers in the US and UK. Currently, when a bestseller is released overseas, local publishers have thirty days to procure a license and offer a local print run of a novel before an international version can be ordered. This allows local publishers to turn a profit which can then be invested in the publishing and marketing of works by local authors. Having the international version available at a cheaper price would inevitably, as the Australian Society of Author’s Chairman David Day says, allow “…London and New York to get an even tighter grip on the Australian book market”. With these two publishing powers, the removal of PIRs would inevitably ruin Australian publishers, and with it, Australian stories.

In addition to the monopolising of the market by the US and the UK, the abolition of PIRs would severely damage opportunities for Australian writers. Local publishers sell the rights of Australian titles to an overseas market (as we cannot sell directly to their retailers thanks to their PIRs) in order to introduce their authors to the world. Without PIRs, publishers will be reluctant to introduce Australian authors to international markets in fear that their internationally published book will return ROYALTY-FREE to Australia to undermine sales of the locally printed book. As a result, Australian authors will miss out on more of their hard-earned royalties and local publishers will see their returns diminish, leaving publishers with less to invest in local authors. Inevitably the Australian publishing industry will be destroyed and Australian authors will have to look at overseas publishers if they hope to publish traditionally and as author Richard Flanagan said, “…Australia as a nation will have had its tongue torn out.”

With these changes, readers will theoretically be able to purchase cheaper books from retailers. However, exposure to culturally relevant texts for young people will become unlikely. Australian children wouldn’t see Australian children in the books they read; this isn’t just a campaign to “buy Australian”, this is an effort to preserve our culture and pass it on, accurately, to the next generation. The marketplace will become inundated not just with international works, but Americanised or British versions of Australian texts (which are changed in the editing process to suit respective audiences). It is highly likely that international versions of Australian books will be marketed as the same product as the Australian and book-buyers will be unaware of the difference. Authors such as Emily Rodda, Andy Griffiths and Nick Earls have all had their work altered to reach international markets and it would be a shame if future Australian children were exposed to these authors through a British or American filter.

We aren’t the first country to pursue abolishing PIRs. In New Zealand, these regulations have already disappeared. Instead of the predicted price drop in books, there was an increase. Having looked on the website of NZ chain-book store, Whitcoulls, it is evident that the mark-up has been considerable with more than half the available books sitting between $25- $50. Not just that, but local works make up only 0.036% of those on offer. After learning this, I discovered that I do not own a single book published in New Zealand, despite having New Zealand authors. Unfortunately it seems like this might be a similar case for some of the locals as well. We can only hope that we can keep our PIRs and this never happens to Australia in the years to come.

Late last year a petition was started to allow the public to have their say about the proposed changes to PIRs. There has been an outstanding array of support for Australian authors, publishers and readers with some of Australia’s most prominent writers such as Andy Griffiths and Jackie French joining the cause. At this time, there is no sure result and anyone who wants to preserve Australia’s right to have their literary voice heard ought to consider signing the petition. Telling stories is part of who we are, and it’s not something that Australians should lose.

 

Words by Kayla Gaskell.