To make my own biases clear, I’ve long been of the view that the Australian publishing industry is made up of a bunch of smug, underperforming, unimaginative bastards who conspire to make my beloved books more expensive.
I don’t know if they’d be first against the wall, waiting for a bullet, come the revolution. But if I had my way they wouldn’t have time to finish their memoirs.
But the publishing industry and the small number of writers who are their favourites are certainly good at getting in front of public megaphones. In the wake of the Productivity Commission calling for an end to restrictions on the parallel importation of books the self serving cries for the continuation of their rape of literacy, and the credence they’ve been given in some media, have been startling.
So it’s good to see the ACT’s Minister for Education, Andrew Barr really taking a red hot shot at the industry in return this morning.
The whole statement is well worth a read, but here are the highlights for mine:
- If bankrolling a publishing oligopoly in Australia prevents kids from reading cheaper books, then Australia has failed its children. Why allow our kids to play cheap video games from the US without any publishing restrictions, while making it more expensive for them to buy books?
Like with CDs, clothing, footwear, cars, food and education, removing trade restrictions has made these items cheaper and more accessible for all Australians. It has also made Australia more prosperous.
The sorts of arguments raised by those in favour of the current restrictions on books are identical to arguments made in favour of restrictions on parallel importing of music CDs.
In spite of the dire warnings of those against reforms in the music industry a decade ago, we can still buy lots of quality Australian music. According to ARIA, around a quarter of the top-selling singles and albums for 2008 were local works. Total royalties paid to artists have increased. The predictions of an end to the Australian music industry proved baseless.
In fact the arguments in favour of protecting Australia’s publishers are not so different from the arguments advanced in support of the White Australia policy last century. We need to protect our industry/ culture/ values/ institutions from foreign contamination. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.
Australia welcomed migrants and we’re all the better for it. We welcome foreign students and we’re all the better for it. We welcome foreign cars and we’re all the better for it. We welcome cheaper music and we’re all the better for it.
Why can’t we have cheaper books?