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Andrew Barr comes out swinging against the publishing industry

By 19 July 2009 81

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?

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81 Responses to Andrew Barr comes out swinging against the publishing industry
#1
futto1:42 pm, 19 Jul 09

i cant wait for the day i can buy books from Amazon.com.au and get free shipping and delivery in a few days.

#2
johnboy2:26 pm, 19 Jul 09

futto said :

i cant wait for the day i can buy books from Amazon.com.au and get free shipping and delivery in a few days.

Just because you personally like shopping online is a poor reason to continue to ban the mass import of cheap books.

#3
Granny2:41 pm, 19 Jul 09

I think you may have misunderstood futto, jb.

#4
housebound3:26 pm, 19 Jul 09

I really hope the Commonwealth Senate ignores the local politician of a local government on this issue, and supports the ‘use it or lose it’ proposal (local exclusive rights for a year, and then open slather).

But then, ‘cheaper for the conmsumer’ is a rather economic rationalist argument that I have never supported as a goal in itself. (eg – and only to illustrate the principle here – Australian seafood might be dearer than cheap chinese fish impoarts, but at least we know it isn’t tainted with banned chemicals, and local oranges aren’t as cheap as dumped argentinian imports, but at least we maintain the capacity to grow our own food, and my Australian tea/coffee isn;t produced with child/slave labour)

Perhaps Andrew Barr could explain the need to attack a local industry on a Sunday afternoon, when the chances of any journalist getting an alternative view would be reduced.

#5
Granny4:08 pm, 19 Jul 09

The book prices here are ridiculous. There is simply no evidence-based justification for maintaining these unnecessarily inflated prices.

#6
futto6:00 pm, 19 Jul 09

Granny said :

I think you may have misunderstood futto, jb.

Haha. Yes. The .com.au was pretty subtle. I am very much in the pro-competion camp. I find it kind of ludacrius to suggest taxes and trade barries are what make me want to buy Australian.

I buy things that i WANT to buy. Entertain me or inform me and i will buy it, I don’t care what country the author is from nor what country the book is published in.

#7
farnarkler6:06 pm, 19 Jul 09

Johnboy publishers are far from the first in line to be shot come the revolution. Lawyers are first.

#8
Anna Key6:08 pm, 19 Jul 09

housebound said :

I really hope the Commonwealth Senate ignores the local politician of a local government on this issue, and supports the ‘use it or lose it’ proposal (local exclusive rights for a year, and then open slather).

But then, ‘cheaper for the conmsumer’ is a rather economic rationalist argument that I have never supported as a goal in itself. (eg – and only to illustrate the principle here – Australian seafood might be dearer than cheap chinese fish impoarts, but at least we know it isn’t tainted with banned chemicals, and local oranges aren’t as cheap as dumped argentinian imports, but at least we maintain the capacity to grow our own food, and my Australian tea/coffee isn;t produced with child/slave labour)

Perhaps Andrew Barr could explain the need to attack a local industry on a Sunday afternoon, when the chances of any journalist getting an alternative view would be reduced.

Firstly, there are quarantine and quality restrictions on imported food. A blanket ban is a cop out to not fund these properly and to not offend producers. I would much prefer argentinian oranges and stop the destruction of the Murray through growing food in totally unsuitable areas.

Secondly, why can’t those in support ie authors be available for comment on a Sunday? Too busy at the arts and crafts markets. On second thoughts, wasn’t it the Rush Hour track day today. I guess they would all be there.

#9
johnboy6:11 pm, 19 Jul 09

Apologies Futto, been hearing too many people saying “I’m alright with amazon jack”.

#10
Pelican Lini6:20 pm, 19 Jul 09

housebound,
you should get out more.
Dunno what oranges and seafood have to do with books.
Any evidence of chemical contaminations in o.s. ink?
More importantly, how come comics and “graphic novels” cost so much?
They appear to be imported.

#11
rosebud6:49 pm, 19 Jul 09

I nearly chocked on my chococuppolatte with mocha yesterday when I paid $36.99 for a new release book. Almost 40 bucks! Gasp!

I can’t wait for the day when I can conveniently and cheaply download a book onto some sort of useable reader. No more dusty books disintegrating in boxes under the bed, no more snot encrusted pages from the library to gag over. I hear a program, say Radio National book show talking about a book. I fancy reading it, go online and BAM! There it is. Lubbly jubbly.

#12
farnarkler8:25 pm, 19 Jul 09

Try this rosebud: http://www.e-book.com.au/freebooks.htm

The electronic readers aren’t exactly cheap…….at the moment. They’ll come down in price eventually, you just have to decide whether you want one now or you can hold out till the price becomes realistic.

#13
astrojax9:08 pm, 19 Jul 09

all good for the reader, but what about the livelihood of the writer, rosebud and others. does this not concern you? it should…

#14
boomacat9:12 pm, 19 Jul 09

farnarkler said :

Johnboy publishers are far from the first in line to be shot come the revolution. Lawyers are first.

Why are we first? I love how everyone hates lawyers, until they’re in some kind of legal trouble, and then they’re your best friend.

*cries into hands at lawyer related hatred*

#15
Woody Mann-Caruso9:44 pm, 19 Jul 09

all good for the reader, but what about the livelihood of the writer

F.ck ‘em. Write decent stuff we want to read at a price we want to pay, or starve – the same as every single other industry in the world. We don’t owe anybody a living. “Think of the poor Aussie writers” is a logical absurdity if you take it to its conclusion:

“If we let in imports, nobody will buy Australian literature any more.”
“Really? Why? We buy it now.”
“Well, the American stuff might be better value.”
“So you’re saying we should make do with sh.tty overpriced writing to keep sh.tty overpriced writers in a job?”
“Sh.tty overpriced Australian writers, yes.”

#16
rosebud9:48 pm, 19 Jul 09

It’s the same faulty business model that the music, film and tv industries are fighting to keep alive. They need to update their business models to how the consumer wants to purchase a product. That’s generally how a successful business model works.

#17
housebound9:49 pm, 19 Jul 09

Pelican Lini said :

housebound,
you should get out more.
Dunno what oranges and seafood have to do with books.
Any evidence of chemical contaminations in o.s. ink?
More importantly, how come comics and “graphic novels” cost so much?
They appear to be imported.

See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Chinese_milk_scandal

And if you read my post, my support was for a ‘use it or lose it’ style control, not a blanket ban.

#18
VYBerlinaV8_the_one_9:49 pm, 19 Jul 09

I fear what I am becoming. Once again I am in violent agreement with Woody.

#19
rosebud9:52 pm, 19 Jul 09

farnarkler said :

Try this rosebud: http://www.e-book.com.au/freebooks.htm

The electronic readers aren’t exactly cheap…….at the moment. They’ll come down in price eventually, you just have to decide whether you want one now or you can hold out till the price becomes realistic.

That’s great! Thanks!

#20
housebound9:53 pm, 19 Jul 09

Somewhere on this site there should be some illustrations of what happens to American-ised text. http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com/. I can’t find it right now, sorry.

As for contaminants in ink (sorry – I dodn’t quite get your sarcasm, I assumed you mistyped), I wouldn’t eat ink – that wasn’t the point.

#21
vg10:08 pm, 19 Jul 09

‘Our kids’?

He has changed teams?

#22
Anna Key10:26 pm, 19 Jul 09

housebound said :

Pelican Lini said :

housebound,
you should get out more.
Dunno what oranges and seafood have to do with books.
Any evidence of chemical contaminations in o.s. ink?
More importantly, how come comics and “graphic novels” cost so much?
They appear to be imported.

See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Chinese_milk_scandal

Or how about the high levels of organochlorines in Australian meat?

#23
caf11:03 pm, 19 Jul 09

rosebud: These BeBook readers are great – I know quite a few people with them who are very happy. The price might seem a little steep, but keen readers would easily spend thousands a year on books, so the reader price really isn’t too bad.

#24
Pelican Lini11:20 pm, 19 Jul 09

Once again, what does foodstuffs have to do with a debate about bringing down the cost of books?
But thanks for the warning on meat Anna Key (great name).
So, housebound, you “assumed (I) mistyped” and you “dodn’t” get my sarcasm.
(Snigger)

#25
Deadmandrinking11:39 pm, 19 Jul 09

vg said :

‘Our kids’?

He has changed teams?

I see his personal life is a lot more important to you than his work as a politician.

It’s a bit of a split issue for me. On one hand, cheaper books are good, especially for me, considering most authors I read are based overseas. However, I do read more Australian authors than I imagine I would were I living in another country.

I think, as long as Australian libraries continue to stock a large amount of Australian literature, considering libraries are where I’m exposed to a lot of authors, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.

#26
justsayit12:06 am, 20 Jul 09

I’m all for cheaper books to support my shameful habbit that has crowded out all inside bookshelves, half my wardrobe and much of the shed.

Rosebud and interested others, I have been following the debates around ebooks in Australia to make sure that when (no if) I buy one will be best value for the Australian market.
http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=35689
This thread (specific to buying an Ebook for Australians) in post#2 does a side by side comparison of all models as well as info on where to buy, how much and what would suit you best. Seems time is not quite right yet while formats and access details are still being worked out but fingers crossed this may be sorted by Christmas.

I note they link to a facebook page that is supposed to continue this debate. I joined up for this reason but don’t bother. It’s just a bunch of sad wanks going “Hi, I’m Emmy from Nebraska and I have an ebook”, “Hey Duuuude, I am surferman and Ebooks rule!” etc Don’t waste your time thinking you will get anything but heartburn from this.

#27
Anna Key7:51 am, 20 Jul 09

I note they link to a facebook page that is supposed to continue this debate. I joined up for this reason but don’t bother. It’s just a bunch of sad wanks going “Hi, I’m Emmy from Nebraska and I have an ebook”, “Hey Duuuude, I am surferman and Ebooks rule!” etc Don’t waste your time thinking you will get anything but heartburn from this.

I’m concerned you signed up for a facebook page expecting intelligent debate and discussion (soooo totally not like Riot Act (LOL)).

But seems Australia is still quite a way behind the times, although here is a fairly recent article.

http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2009/05/bebook_ebook_reader_now_available_in_australia/

#28
Deadmandrinking8:16 am, 20 Jul 09

Anna Key – I’ve been interested in these E-books, but I don’t know if they’ll really be able to rid the feel of holding a book in your hands. I know I’ll try to put a bookmark in it at least once.

#29
Jim Jones9:28 am, 20 Jul 09

New Zealand lifted the restrictions on parallel importations for books and the world didn’t end – the industry has actually shown a moderate upswing since then.

It’s pretty typical that the industry is crying foul and prophesying doom though – their response to the PIR debate has been analogous to the music industry response to the lifting of parallel importing restrictions. And what happened when parallel importation restrictions on CDs were lifted? Not a damn thing. If the wholesale prices of CDs dropped, then it was simply added to the profit margin.

As others have been pointing out, the bigger issues that the industry is going to have to deal with is: 1) the fact that more and more people are simply sidestepping the local market in order to purchase cheap books online (http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/ is by far the cheapest supplier I’ve seen, and they don’t charge for delivery – I can buy anything from a huge, full-colour graphic novel to a cheap trade paperback and know that it will be significantly cheaper than any shop I could find it in), and the rise of ebooks (no, they’re not commercially mainstream yet, but the quality of readers has been rising and it’s only a matter of time before they are popularised and take on an iPod type status; Apple is due to release a reader soon I believe).

The responses from authors to the PIR issue has been typically misguided and emotive. The most hilarious thing to see are people arguing that the PIR will see ‘the death of book culture in Australia’ – as if people buying cheaper books will somehow mean the death of book culture (presumably more people going to the National Gallery will also mean the death of art). Local literature already has more than enough grants and other money thrown at it without also demanding that the market be declared some sort of protected haven. If your work is good enough, then you will succeed in the market; the real issue that many ‘local’ writers have to face is that they’re nothing more than annoying, government-sponsored dilettantes who would be better left to the dustbin of history.

#30
caf9:29 am, 20 Jul 09

Deadmandrinking: All the sceptics I know have become converts after trying one. It’s pretty hard to go past the ability to bring hundreds of books with you in 200 grams of plastic, particularly travelling.

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