PARALLEL IMPORTS DEBATE – GIVE AUTHORS CREDIT FOR INTELLIGENCE

Dee

I am a proud Australian author and admit that I have a totally vested interest in the PIR debate…..but doesn’t everyone?

The ‘free traders’ and big businesses behind the push to remove PIRs stand to make more money. All other parties to the publishing and printing process stand to make less.

Hundreds, if not thousands of jobs will be at risk, and printers and some smaller independent bookshops will face possible closure.

If PIRs are removed, my territorial copyright will become worthless, the opportunities for my unpublished writer friends will be few and far between….and my children will have reduced chances of finding employment in this industry. So, why wouldn’t I be worried?

Not only that, but the carbon footprint of bringing all these imports into the country will be huge, and the future of Australian culture as reflected in our literature will be heavily compromised with our readers being forced to consume an American or UK ‘brand’ of Australiana…and perhaps have no exposure to it all.

In US versions of our books, our storybook mums will become moms, our taps will become faucets, and even our native animals will not escape unscathed. Our children will be forced to read about opossums and who knows, our echidna may even become a ‘porcupine’?

As a parent and an Australian reader, this is NOT what I want for future generations.

On Saturday night, I was with a group from Saving Aussie Books who went to the Melbourne Writer’s Festival forum on PIRs at Federation Square – to listen, and to get petitions signed to submit to Canberra.

The panel consisted of Mark Davis (author, academic and chair), Gabrielle Coyne (MD, Penguin), Sandy Grant (publisher, Hardie Grant) David Vodicka (Rubber Records), Allan Fels and Peter Donoughue.

It was a lively debate with publishers clearly articulating, using fact-based evidence, how destructive removing PIRs will be for our industry…with no proven gain for the consumer.

Mr Fels on the other hand was full of vague and sweeping statements which he claimed categorically to be true, all the while shaking the Productivity Commission Report at the audience – almost begging them to believe the truth of its contents.

By Mr Fel’s own admission, ‘Authors are the ones who will be most affected by the changes’, yet he accused us of being, ‘Whipped up by our publishers into a frenzy’.

The only frenzy or panic I saw was Mr Fels attempting to scuttle away from the scrutiny of people wanting to know ‘which vested interests’ were really behind the Productivity Commission’s factually flawed 300 page tome.

In the hundred strong audience, I saw no evidence of authors foaming at the mouth or even closely approaching a frenzied state.

My Sydney-based publisher was not at the forum, and in fact they only knew it was on because I told them; informing them as a matter of courtesy, that I would be in a public place getting petitions signed.

When Mr Fels made his statement about ‘Authors being whipped up into a frenzy’, even my mild mannered husband was forced to exclaim, ‘Authors are smart, articulate people, doesn’t he give them any credit for intelligence?’

Unfortunately, clearly Mr Fels does not. Or is it that he is using this tactic to try and cause divisiveness between authors and their publishers; perhaps he is following a divide and conquer philosophy?

Perhaps, he just doesn’t get our industry at all…I mean let’s face it, in what other industry would you have competitors sitting side by side at public gatherings, genuinely congratulating each other on their successes?

In Mr Fel’s world of high finance, perhaps it’s balance sheets at five paces, slay the competition, put them out of business…at all costs.

I am proud to be part of an industry where authors who are my true competitors are my greatest friends; where publishers, printers, writers, illustrators and literary agents are working together for a very worthy cause…. to KEEP Parallel Import Restrictions on Books.

Yes, authors are riled and outspoken on this issue. Yes, we are appalled at the prospects for our industry and the future of what the Productivity Commission blithely dismisses as ‘cultural externalities’.

But we are doing this because we are thinking people with a social conscience, who care not just about what happens to our profession, but for the welfare of those around us.

If you haven’t already signed the Saving Aussie Books petition which will be presented to Canberra, you can do so now. Go to http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com

PARALLEL IMPORT RESTRICTIONS AND FREE TRADE

Visit this blog tomorrow to find out why supporters of Free Trade are behind the move to abolish Parallel Import Restrictions on books……and why it won’t end up being FREE!

Also, check out http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com today for another post on this issue.

Dee

PARALLEL IMPORTS ON BOOKS – PC CRIT 4 – AUTHORS AND THE RESEARCH DATA

Dear Mr Rudd, Mr Garrett, Mr Bowen and to all supporters of the Arts and Culture in Australia.

RE: AUTHORS AND THE RESEARCH DATA

When it comes to describing the existing situation and possible outcomes for authors, the Productivity Commission has been forced to make a number of sweeping statements and generalisations that clearly indicate it does not have the research data to support its claims.

Australian authors earn an average of $11,000 per year yet the Productivity Commission would have us believe that up to 50% of these authors are represented by literary agents. (refer page 2.14 of the PC report – Westland 2006). These figures just don’t add up.

Further ‘creativity’ and vagueness is displayed on page 5.14 where the Commission asserts without providing any supporting evidence that:

Authors of Australian-specific content are likely to be somewhat insulated from any contractions in publishing as there would still be demand for such books.

“Likely to be somewhat insulated”?  What sort of an economic judgement is that?

And on page 5.15 the Commission quotes quite extensively from a submission by Peter Donohue that claims authors can just ‘buy back’ the remaindered copies to prevent overseas publishers from competing with the Australian royalty paying copies. It makes you wonder how on an income of $11,000 the ‘average’ Australian author is going to be able to do that.

In further unsubstantiated vagueness, the Commission asserts as part of its cultural discussion,

The Harry Potter books are considered by some to have been the most important in promoting children’s reading, both in Australia and overseas.

Forgetting the fact that no ‘numbers’ are provided to support this statement, it also fails to take into account people like Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman and many other Australian authors who were motivating our children to read before Harry Potter was even a gleam in JK Rowling’s eye.

In another sweeping statement, the Productivity Commission claims on page 6.5

Australian authorship alone does not necessarily give rise to substantive cultural value.

I wonder how such a thing can even be measured. We don’t have to write about Uluru, King’s Cross or Southern Cross Station for our books to be ‘Australian’. Just the fact that our stories are set in an Australian context, our nursing journals are set in Australian teaching hospitals using our procedures – surely this makes them of cultural and educational value to our readers.

And when it comes to authors, the Commission has been very selective in its use of ‘relevant’ examples.

The Commission asserts on page 6.6  that authors like Mem Fox haven’t had changes made to their overseas editions, and this may well be true. But when you are one of the authors on less than $11,000 a year trying to contribute to the support of a mortgage and family, you’re not in a good position to be bargaining over editorial changes.

And what the Commission also fails to point out in its use of Possum Magic as an example, is that this is a picture book that is ‘read’ to children, so that an adult is present to explain word meanings etc. Most Picture books aren’t ‘read’ by their intended readership – many are for preschool age children. So even though the books are aimed at these children, they have to be read to them – and this often involves a lot of explantory discussion.

In its cultural debate, the Commission goes on to discuss the relationship between cultural and market value – a move which in view of lack of research data  is completely open to personal interpretation.

Hard pressed for statistical evidence on this issue the Commission uses its creativity to compare (page 6.9) books with heritage buildings.

And when it comes to comparing cultural and market value, the Commission concludes that:

Beyond the intrinsic motivations of authors and publishers, the extent to which the creation and subsequent dissemination of books occurs depends in large measure on the price of books in the marketplace.

This statement totally goes against the evidence of booksellers (the people at the coal face) who aren’t members of the Coalition for Cheaper Books. They are the booksellers who really care about their customers and providing them with the range and quality of books they want. These are the booksellers who say that most book buying decisions are based on author, content and topic – and NOT price.

The proposal to remove Parallel Imports on books is a serious issue affecting the livelihood of many – and I’ll admit; particularly authors like me.

But surely, decisions should be based on well researched evidence, not the vague assumptions that arise from insufficient statistical data.

Dee White

Author

PARALLEL IMPORTS ON BOOKS – PC CRIT 2 – Culture and Learning

Dear Mr Rudd, Mr Garrett, Mr Bowen and to all supporters of the Arts and Culture in Australia.

I was pleased to see that on page XV of its report, the Productivity Commission acknowledges that books can be “tools of learning”.

But I have found the Productivity Commission’s whole debate on culture versus learning to be confusing and contradictory.

In reference to learning, the Productivity Commission states on page 6.12

Depending on the subject matter, it (reading) can also enhance a person’s awareness and understanding on specific topics as well as their cognitive capabilities more generally.

And in reference to Culture, the Commission had this to say on page XX:

Support of a larger publishing industry, and as a consequence, more Australian authorship results in a greater portrayal of Australian events, as well as stories that are told by Australian voices.

And on page 6.1

The PIRs, by increasing returns to publishers and authors, provide incentives for the creation of additional Australian books, increasing cultural and related benefits to Australia.

Yet two paragraphs further down, the Productivity Commission claims

The unpriced ‘externality’ component of the cultural benefits that is dependent on the PIRs is unlikely to be large…..

‘Unlikely to be large’ – what sort of conclusion is that – and on what basis is it predicated – where are the figures to support such a claim?

I’m not an economist, but I wonder how you can separate learning and culture – and the importance of both.

It’s not just authors and publishers who are arguing this point. Parents and educators have also expressed their concerns.

In her submission to the Productivity Commission (DR303), Doctor Deb Hull, an expert in education said,

It is important for children to see the language and idioms of their country reflected back at them in what they read. In order for them to develop a sense of national identity, they need to work with texts that reflect the history and culture of Australia.

In order for them to develop as citizens, they must read about issues that this country is facing.

In order for them to engage with literacy, they must have access to books that are directly relevant to them.

I freely admit to being no economics expert. I am just a writer, ploughing through the Productivity Commission’s 220 page report, trying to make some sense of it all. And trying to understand how The Commissioners came to the conclusion that culture is sort of important in our country – but not enough to preserve it in our literature.

Surely when it comes to the wellbeing and education of our children, we should not be basing our decisions on the assumptions of economists who believe something to be ‘unlikely’.  We should listen to people like Dr Deb Hull – people who know – people who have the experience to tell us that it’s not the price of a book that makes a child pick it up – and it’s not the price of the book that inspires them to read it.

In spite of people like Bob Carr’s assertions to the contrary, even the Productivity Commission notes on page B.6 that ‘reduction in book prices….would do little to raise literacy rate.

So why are we considering jeopardising our culture and children’s learning for the sake of a ‘possible’ but by no means guaranteed drop in the cost of a book?

Dee White

Author

(Please feel free to leave your comments on this issue. My next piece, PC Crit 3 will be posted to this blog on Monday 27th July).

WE NEED MORE POLLIES BEHIND US!

I can’t tell you how pleased I was to open the Bendigo Advertiser today and find an impressive piece by Sacha McDougal, ‘Brumby backs books’.

After seeing the likes of Bob Carr turn on the publishing industry, it was so reassuring to see that some of our current politicians can see the realities behind this issue.

As Mr Brumby pointed out, significant job losses will occur if Parallel Import Restrictions are removed.

He also said it would ‘put at risk the cultural and economic gains made in the book industry over the past two decades.’

Mr Brumby, you have restored my faith in our ‘democracy’. I hope that your fellow politicians embrace your philosophy of supporting something that is good for the majority, not just a few highly paid Executives looking to further line their own pockets.

Make the most of living in a democracy, write to your Federal Politicians and express your views.

Dee:-)

REMOVING PARALLEL IMPORTS ON BOOKS – THE REAL STORY!

On 1st July, my debut novel, Letters to Leonardo was released by Walker Books Australia. What a fantastic time it was for me. The Cyber Launch was a blast, the blog tour was a whirl wind, but it didn’t take long to come back down to earth.

Less than two weeks later, the Productivity Commission released its findings on the removal of Parallel Import Restrictions, and since then, I’ve found it hard to celebrate my novel’s release – all I can think about is that the industry I’ve wanted to be part of since I was seven year’s old, is now in jeopardy.

Since the Productivity Commission’s latest report there have been so many lies and misinformation being circulated by the print media on the debate  of the proposed removal of parallel imports on books.

Being passionate about books and writing, I have made two submissions to the Productivity Commission and attended the roundtable discussion in Melbourne, but the future plight of Australian authors seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

We are fighting the likes of Dymocks, Coles and Big W, and many members of the print media seem uninterested in accurately representing our story.

The Parallel Import Restrictions currently in place prevent overseas publishers from flooding our market with cheap imports of Australian books. These books are likely to be of inferior quality and would result in little or no income for Australian publishers, authors and printers. USA and UK are currently protected markets so if they want to publish books by Australian authors they purchase the rights from the Australian Publisher and author who receive income from the overseas sales.

This income not only helps support the author (Australian authors earn an average of $11,000 per year) in their difficult quest to make a living, but it also allows Australian publishers to nurture new authors and bring in important works from overseas, thus exposing us to cultural diversity. Industry experts in both the USA and UK have expressed disbelief that we are even considering subjecting our book industry to an open market.

The move to abolish Parallel Import Restrictions is not supported by authors, publishers, printers or most booksellers. It is being pushed by Dymocks, Coles, Woolworths and the chains who stand to make the most profit. They are the ones who will be able to import in huge numbers – thus gaining big discounts.

They will be able to charge discount prices for which the author may earn no income and the local independent booksellers won’t be able to compete – and will go out of business. They will be able to import cheap books that won’t be printed to our high Australian standards.

This is sort of like the current push to put independent service stations out of business. And on the subject of service stations – weren’t we told that petrol prices would go down when self- service came in?

None of this even takes into account the cultural ramifications of putting our publishing industry in the hands of America – a culture that is not the same as ours. Do we want our children to be reading about faucets, moms and opossums?

MISINFORMATION IN THE MEDIA

This the sort of misinformation that the Coalition for Cheaper books is deliberately spreading and some members of the print media are printing it without verifying its authenticity.

THE MISINFORMATION BEING PRINTED THE FACTS
That consumers will save $200 million per year on purchase of books if PIRs are removed.(THESE FIGURES HAVE NOT BEEN SUBSTANTIATED ANYWHERE!) Even the Productivity Commission agrees that there is no guarantee that prices will come down – and there is no obligation on the retailer to pass any discounts on. In fact, evidence suggests that the reverse will happen if PIRs are abolished – and that prices will go up. 
That authors are self-interestedly disregarding the interests of their readers. That it is greed that is driving our objections to the abolition of PIRs. This rumour is being perpetrated by the CEO of Dymocks who earns at least five times as much as the author yet they constantly charge more than the recommended retail price on book. On a $10.00 book, Dymocks earns at least $5.00 while the person who wrote it gets $1.00 and if the book is illustrated, author and illustrator earn 50 cents each.
That the Australian culture in books won’t be affected. It is already proven that when books are printed in the USA the language is changed to suit.Our children will be reading about Moms, faucets and diapers instead of mums, taps and nappies.
That abolishing PIRs in New Zealand has not had an adverse affect. This is so untrue. The New Zealand Society of Authors made submissions to the Productivity Commission asking them not to abolish PIRs because of their own experience of the resultant devastation to the industry.Since PIRs were abolished,  book distribution warehouses in NZ have closed down. Publishers and independent booksellers have gone out of business and new authors have struggled to get published.

 MY STORY

I have wanted to be an author since I was seven year’s old. For the last twenty years, I have taken whatever work I can that still allows me to write, but for the most part, have been financially supported by my husband who admires my passion for writing and books.

I am not crying poor – I am doing what I love to do – but I want people to know what the reality is for most authors.

And even those successful authors who are earning good incomes and speaking out against the removal of PIRs; they are not doing it out of self-interest – the money doesn’t matter to them – they are doing it to protect people like me – new authors whose careers are at risk before they have barely started.

In July this year, after working for more than ten years on my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo, it was published by Walker Books. This book involved more than 30 drafts, around 2000 hours work and one million words on paper.

Finally, when I feel I am starting to make it as an author, the rug looks like it is going to be pulled from under me. Publishers like mine, won’t be able to stay economically viable by taking risks on new authors like me. To survive they will have to focus on the tried and true – the bestselling authors – the established ones. So what happens to writers like me – who dreamed of being authors all their lives?

What makes me even sadder about all this is that my 10yo is a very talented writer, contemplating the possibility of a similar career, yet how can I encourage him when the jobs just might not be there?

For my ten years work, I will earn under $6,000 if 3,500 copies of my book are sold – and this is a standard print run for a first time author. Dymocks will make at least five times that – and our government will make the same money as I do through their 10% GST.

THE LONG TERM FUTURE IF PIRs ARE REMOVED!

We have seen so many manufacturing businesses move overseas because of economic rationalisation.

Many Australian publishers are owned by overseas companies who could very well ditch their Australian branches if PIRs are removed and it becomes more economical to do everything from their overseas head office. This would not only lead to huge job losses in Australia, but the whole content of our literature would change.

The point is that the people accusing us of greed earn five times as much as we do for what we create – and authors are now copping a lot of vitriol because of the campaign against us by Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspaper and Don Grosvnor the Dymock’s CEO.

Rupert Murdoch has been pushing the abolition of PIRs in his newspaper, The Australian, yet has failed to declare his conflict of interest – and the fact that he owns organisations who are part of the campaign to get rid of Parallel Import Restrictions. 

Dymock’s CEO claims that authors are ripping off the Australian reader, but as a matter of interest, here’s how Dymocks prices compare with A & R on the books that were on the front of  The Australian on Wednesday:

BOOK TITLE A& R AMAZON DYMOCKS
Finger Lickin Fifteen $22.99 $21.50 $32.99
Breath $20.99   $24.95
Breaking Dawn Not available $16.25 $29.99
The Scarecrow $22.99 $22.90 $32.99

 If A & R can sell them to the Australian public for that price, why can’t Dymocks? Who’s really ripping off the Australian Public?

Don’t believe the propaganda. Do you really think these big companies want to save YOU money on books? Look at the facts and decide for yourself.

If you don’t support the abolition of Parallel Imports on books, write to your local politician. Make your vote count.

If you are not sure who your MP is, or how to contact them, or how to address them etc, look at this website which contains all that info!

http://www.efa.org.au/Campaigns/lobby.html 

or refer http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com  or http://blottedcopywritersissues.wordpress.com for more information on this issue.

Dee

PARALLEL IMPORTS ‘ROUND TABLE’ PUBLIC DISCUSSIONS

The Productivity Commission is holding ’round table’ public discussions on the subject of parallel imports in Sydney and Melbourne in early April.

I’ll be attending the Melbourne event on 7th April so I’ll be holding off finalising my submission until then. My complete submission to the Productivity Commission will appear on this blog on or around 9th April.

If you want to go to one of the public forums, you can email your interest to the Productivity Commission at books@pc.gov.au