Andrew Barr comes out swinging against the publishing industry

johnboy 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
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Jim Jones Jim Jones 9:32 am 22 Jul 09

YapYapYap said :

ps So which author is the Danish imposter.

Peter Hoeg.

Jim Jones Jim Jones 9:31 am 22 Jul 09

I still haven’t seen anyone offer an explanation as to why local/Australian literature will suddenly disappear with the changes to PIR.

The only thing that YapYapYap has vaguely pointed to (in between a lot of bluster and some appalling confusion and misrepresentation of such basic concepts as ‘copyright’) is (to paraphrase) ‘if books get cheaper, authors royalties will reduce accordingly’ (well duh!). You’d be hard pressed to find *anyone* to argue that book prices in Australia aren’t grossly overpriced – that’s why there’s been a massive shift in the market to people purchasing cheap online works (I can buy a novel shipped from the UK cheaper than I can find it in any store in Australia): the Australian book market is horrifically distorted because of this protectionist guff. According to this sort of argument, all books should be priced as highly as possible because that would mean that authors would get more money – it’s a short-sighted argument that overlooks the fact that, if book prices drop, then people will buy more books.

The remainders argument is a complete furphy. Remainders occur when the sales expectations of a book are not met and the publisher is forced to dump stock because a title has failed to meet sales expectations. Remainders cost publishers money and are a sign that a book has failed, they won’t be reducing prices on books that would be otherwise successful.

Thumper Thumper 8:13 am 22 Jul 09

Seriously though, I did like Slessor’s Darlinghurst Nights. Great imagery.

Thumper Thumper 8:10 am 22 Jul 09

Ern Malley.

Great poet hey 😉

I loved that Angry Penguins…

housebound housebound 7:44 am 22 Jul 09

And here’s a better discussion than I would ever come up with from a booksellers point of view:
http://www.scribepublications.com.au/blog

housebound housebound 7:39 am 22 Jul 09

The argument is really about whether people like Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings would have ever been published in the first place, or Andy Griffiths for that matter. It’s really hard to get a first publishing contract, and the industry is understandably skeptical that the PC has fully considered that. It’s not like applying for an economists position at the PC.

Can you imagine how an americanised Andy Griffths book would read, if it did get past american sensibilities enough to even get published?

Granny Granny 3:26 am 22 Jul 09

… all-write … *boom boom*

Granny Granny 3:25 am 22 Jul 09

If our authors are the equivalent of the buggy whip or sword industries there is little merit in trying to protect them. If they are as good as you think they don’t need protection, they need opportunity.

People like Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings aren’t going anywhere. That is not because they are protected, but because there is a market for what they write.

It will be alright.

YapYapYap YapYapYap 2:00 am 22 Jul 09

Granny said :

Dammit, YapYapYap! You’ve gone and been nice to me. That spoils everything!

Well, I don’t really want a fight either. I don’t want to see anything bad happen to our industry. I think there is room for improvement here. Surely it can’t be hard for authors and consumers to win? Everyone is losing out already in many ways.

Granny I more or less agree (in a general sense), but the Productivity Commission report recommendations, and its overall position on this isuue, and most everthing else, is to expose anything and everything to market forces. And hell, doesn’t that work a treat.

YapYapYap YapYapYap 1:55 am 22 Jul 09

Ari said :

YapYapYap said :

a three minute song isn’t Tree of Man, after all.

Dear God, the opponents of change want to foist more bl**dy Patrick White on us? Didn’t we suffer enough of his pretentious cr*p at high school and uni? In the name of studying a “distinctive Australian voice”.

Personally, I mostly gave up on local bookshops a couple of years ago.

I’ve found most of the books I wanted online, far, far cheaper. I still buy plenty, though.

If the local bookshops are able to regain their competitive abilities through this change there’s a chance I might start spending some quality browsing time in them again.

I might even fortuitously come across some “distinctive Australian voices”.

But, meh, I think it’s too late for them now. Protectionism has strangled them past the point of recovery.

Ari, I didn’t actually say Tree of Man is a must, just that you couldn’t pump it out of your basement via youtube, in the same way you could a three minute ditty.

I agree book prices are something worthy of attention, but losing our stories isn’t the same thing as not buying ‘our’ thongs – I don’t care where my consumer crap comes from

YapYapYap YapYapYap 1:46 am 22 Jul 09

You wouldn’t have heard of any of them otherwise, let alone had the pleasure to read their work. The same arguement would see the ABC wiped-out. Cant’ wait for the Productivity Commission’s report on “The need to expose all elements of Australian Culture, in particular the ABC, museums, libraries, orchestras, opera, ballet, and face painting in the park to the whim of the the Market Gods”

ps So which author is the Danish imposter.

Ari Ari 1:46 am 22 Jul 09

YapYapYap said :

a three minute song isn’t Tree of Man, after all.

Dear God, the opponents of change want to foist more bl**dy Patrick White on us? Didn’t we suffer enough of his pretentious cr*p at high school and uni? In the name of studying a “distinctive Australian voice”.

Personally, I mostly gave up on local bookshops a couple of years ago.

I’ve found most of the books I wanted online, far, far cheaper. I still buy plenty, though.

If the local bookshops are able to regain their competitive abilities through this change there’s a chance I might start spending some quality browsing time in them again.

I might even fortuitously come across some “distinctive Australian voices”.

But, meh, I think it’s too late for them now. Protectionism has strangled them past the point of recovery.

Granny Granny 1:42 am 22 Jul 09

Dammit, YapYapYap! You’ve gone and been nice to me. That spoils everything!

Well, I don’t really want a fight either. I don’t want to see anything bad happen to our industry. I think there is room for improvement here. Surely it can’t be hard for authors and consumers to win? Everyone is losing out already in many ways.

Granny Granny 1:38 am 22 Jul 09

YapYapYap said :

So, let’s start with (some already topped by JB) crap authors …

… that are only being thrown a handful of crumbs from the outrageous subsidies that ordinary Australians are forced to pay.

YapYapYap YapYapYap 1:30 am 22 Jul 09

Granny said :

YapYapYap, I mostly buy children’s books, of which many of them are Australian.

If you think I will buy them just because they’re Australian, you are wrong.

If you think I’ll buy any less of them when my money stops flooding overseas, you are also wrong.

Heck, I might even buy more.

I do actually want more, but I can’t afford to purchase them for my kids, because I’m too busy paying foreign people other than the author.

And I sure resent having to spend a fortune on postage to get things from Amazon, and still end up cheaper.

I don’t want to spend my money on postage. I want to spend it on books.

Granny I understand your point on this, its valid enough, but my point is too. I don’t want to see books at inflated prices, but neither do I want to see books dumbed-down in the way the cinema, television, music, food, and everything else has been. I’m not spoiling for a fight – on this issue 🙂 – I think its important that we don’t lose our ‘voice’ at the alter that is the market.

YapYapYap YapYapYap 1:21 am 22 Jul 09

johnboy said :

Don’t care Yap Yap Yap.

Aside from Tim Winton the local writers can all top themselves and I wouldn’t care because most of them are crap.

So, let’s start with (some already topped by JB) crap authors:

Patrick White, Peter Carey, AD Hope, Kenneth Slessor, Randolph Stowe, Dorothy Hewett, John Marsden, Thomas Kenneally, David Williamson, Morris Gleitzman, John Pilger, Geraldine Brooks, Vincent Buckley, David Malouf, Helen Garner, Dorothy Porter, Les Murray, Kevin Hart, Peter Cowan, Shirley Hazzard, John Tranter, Kate Grenville, Robert Adamson, Frank Moorhouse, Andrew Taylor, Brenda Walker, Thom Shapcott, Judith Wright, G Elizabeth Jolley, Kim Scott, Thea Astley, Bruce Dawe, Nick Cave, Peter Hoeg, Paul Jennings, John Blight, Hal Porter, Bruce Beaver, Peter Porter, John Kinsella, G Elizabeth Jolley, Jack Davis, Gwen Harwood, Gail Jones, …and of course Ern Malley

Points for the person who identifies the Danish imposter on this list. Contact the ‘bookburner’ for details of your prize

Granny Granny 1:12 am 22 Jul 09

YapYapYap, I mostly buy children’s books, of which many of them are Australian.

If you think I will buy them just because they’re Australian, you are wrong.

If you think I’ll buy any less of them when my money stops flooding overseas, you are also wrong.

Heck, I might even buy more.

I do actually want more, but I can’t afford to purchase them for my kids, because I’m too busy paying foreign people other than the author.

And I sure resent having to spend a fortune on postage to get things from Amazon, and still end up cheaper.

I don’t want to spend my money on postage. I want to spend it on books.

YapYapYap YapYapYap 12:40 am 22 Jul 09

johnboy, you’ve got cheaper access to ‘global writing’ as things stand; you can import at substantial discounts. What concerns me is the impact on local writers, whatever you think of them. That aside, “don’t care” isn’t a real arguement, nor is the Tim Winton line.

johnboy johnboy 12:27 am 22 Jul 09

Don’t care Yap Yap Yap.

Aside from Tim Winton the local writers can all top themselves and I wouldn’t care because most of them are crap.

Give me cheaper access to global writing and the Australian authors who can stand up in that company I will applaud.

There are better ways to support local writing than pricing literacy out of the market.

Almost all of them in fact.

YapYapYap YapYapYap 12:21 am 22 Jul 09

Granny, I have no problem with cheaper books (or anything else for that matter), however I don’t share your apparently unfetted faith in the behaviour of markets, and I am concerned that Australian book could well end up no better than Australian tevevision.

The Commission’s report is lazy. You might disagree, and you might also attempt to justify this nonsense:

“There is also a concern that any Australian-authored works for which overseas rights have been
sold could face competition from imported copies could affect their prospects for local publication. However, the Commission notes that in the order of 70 per cent of Australian-authored trade works do not have export editions (appendix E). For those with export editions, any threat of reimportation could be ameliorated to some extent, depending on the competitive
response of Australian authors and publishers……”

The interests of the other 30% aren’t dealt with here, or anywhere else in this discussion, and those interests are simply dismissed, it would seem, because 70% sounds like ‘enough’ as arguements go.

As to “the competitive response of Australian authors”; what sort of robot thinks authors focus their efforts on “competitive responses” to market uncertainties?

This stuff is rubbish, whatever the merits of removing PIRs, and the Commission should either pulp its product or expose its own publications to some ‘proper’ competition.

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