People DO Make a Difference!

DEE POSTING FIRST BUNDLE OF PETITIONS TO SAB REPRESENTATIVE IN CANBERRA

Me posting the first bundle of petitions to our Saving Aussie Books representative in Canberra. Later, all petitions were collated and handed directly to the politicians by Sheryl Gwyther from Saving Aussie Books

Yesterday, it was announced that Federal Cabinet had rejected the Productivity Commission’s recommendations to remove Parallel Import Restrictions on books.

As an author with many author friends, I celebrated this decision. These days, it’s hard enough for an Australian author with few or no ‘published credits’ to have their work picked up. If Parallel Import Restrictions had been removed; allowing the importation of cheap overseas versions of our work, this would have reduced opportunities even further.

Retaining Parallel Imports on books also means that thousands of people in the printing and publishing industries will keep their jobs and that the Victorian town of Maryborough will be saved from complete decimation.

But as a mother and a children’s writer, the most important outcome for me is that our culture and history as expressed through our literature will be protected. My books that are sold in Australia will have mums and taps not ‘moms’ and ‘faucets’.

As a parent of creative children, it is also important to me that there will still be opportunities available for them in this industry if that’s the career path they choose.

Having been deeply involved in the ‘battle’ from start to finish, I feel a sense of relief that this matter has now been resolved and I can continue to go on with my own writing. (Perhaps even start to blog regularly again.)

But I know that none of us can be complacent. We live in a world of changing views and technologies and all of us in the publishing industry will need to work with these new developments, keep fighting the battles that need to be fought, and protect not only our own interests but those of our readers.

One of the most inspiring things about this whole process has been how authors, publishers, agents, printers, booksellers and politicians have worked side by side.

Having been involved in the establishment and running of the Saving Aussie Books blog http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com, it has also been my pleasure to come into contact with wonderful kids, parents, grandparents – readers of all generations; from all walks of life who have been united by their love for Australian books.

Who knows what really went on – or what motivated the final decision? What I do know is that so many ‘ordinary’ Australians fought hard for what they believed in. People wrote letters, emailed, phoned and faxed their local politicians – people who admitted that this was something that would not ordinarily be bothered doing.

Supporters from all over Australia got petitions signed and mailed them to Saving Aussie Books and one of our members (Sheryl Gwyther) flew to Canberra at her own expense to present them to the politicians.

Whether all this made a difference, who knows? But I know that it made a difference to me. It made me realise that people in Australia aren’t apathetic – that they will fight for what they believe in – they just have to know how to go about it.

Thanks to each and every person who signed a petition, collected signatures, made a phone call, sent a letter, did whatever they could – cared enough about Australian books to put up a fight.

Dee

PARALLEL IMPORTS DEBATE – NOTHING FUNNY HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM…..

….And in fact, the Parallel Import Restrictions forum that took place at ACMI 2 in Fed Square on Saturday night was taken very seriously by all who attended.

And why wouldn’t it be? The proposal to remove Parallel Import Restrictions on books impacts on so many things…our livelihoods, our cultural history, our environment.

The Melbourne Writers Festival’s Response to the Productivity Commission Report featured the panel of Gabrielle Coyne (MD, Penguin), Sandy Grant (Publisher, Hardie Grant), David Vodicka (Rubber Records), Allan Fels and Peter Donoughue.

The panel was chaired by author and academic, Mark Davis, but unfortunately, no authors were really given the chance to stand up and have their say. Also absent from the panel was any representation from the Productivity Commission; which seemed strange seeing as it was their report that was being responded to.

More than 100 people listened to, and participated in the debate which went half an hour overtime and could have gone a lot longer. I was there as a member of Saving Aussie Books; getting petitions signed to submit to our politicians….and of course to listen, and gain a greater understanding of the issues.

Allan Fels, advocate of ‘Free Trade’ had the first chance to speak and referred back to 1912 when the parallel import laws first came in. Nobody was really quite sure why he did this seeing as the 1991 amendments seemed to have far more relevance to the current industry.

Allan clearly stated his position, that he believed that the PC report demonstrated that the average price of books in Australia is substantially higher than our overseas competitors.

His statement left me wondering if he’d read the same document…or even lived in the same country as me. And Gabrielle Coyne was quick to point out that Fel’s conclusion was simply not true; citing as an example, the fact that Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’ can be purchased in Australia for $14, and that there is statistical evidence to prove that Aussie books are competitively priced.

Prices vary according to exchange rates, freight and so many other factors and even the Productivity Commission CANNOT guarantee price reductions.  As Gabrielle mentioned, ‘The PC report pretty much says that books will be cheaper some of the time (maybe)’.

Sandy Grant talked about the fact that local publishers would be disadvantaged by a deregulated market because there is no way that the US or the UK markets will remove Parallel Import Restrictions on books.  As Sandy said, ‘This creates unfair and uneven competition’. He described it as, ‘One more hit that will destroy independent publishers’.

While Sandy conceded that the digital age necessitates the need for industry reforms, he said that removing PIRs on books is ‘Not the reform that the industry should focus on this time around’.

Allan Fels agreed that removing PIRs, ‘Would have some impact on the publishing industry, but not too large.’

This statement left many of us in the audience shaking our heads, wondering how you quantify not too large, and why it is worth risking jobs, livelihoods and cultural history when the impacts of removing PIRs have not even been properly measured?

Allan Fels also claimed that the proposed reforms would lead to significant improvements in distribution; once again a sweeping statement without any terms of reference and clearly no factual basis seeing as distribution warehouses were wiped out in New Zealand when PIRs were removed.

Sandy Grant pointed out that most New Zealand books are now purchased offshore, with book buyers based in Australia. Would we want our book buyers based in the US, using their markets to dictate what is available here?

David Vodicka from Rubber Records was called upon to talk about how removing PIRs had affected the music industry. Despite claims in the PC report to the contrary, David was able to speak of ‘real’ experiences. He said that, ‘CDs have become cheaper because of the internet, not because of removing PIRs.’ David also stated, ‘There is no empirical evidence to show that PIR removal had any affect on prices’.

Furthermore, he said that the government subsidies designed to compensate artists (the same ones being offered to authors if PIRs are removed) ran out after three years.

He also advised that since the removal of PIRs in the music industry, ‘Small record labels have had difficulty getting access to markets’.

Unfortunately due to the lengthy rhetoric from Allan Fels and Peter Donoughue, question time was limited. Publisher, Henry Rosenbloom did have an opportunity however, to speak out about the fact that freight charges hadn’t been allowed for in any of the pricing done by the Productivity Commission.

Author, Morris Gleitzman said, ‘The place we give young people’s stories in our culture can’t be reduced to economic rationalism’.

Allan Fels response was, ‘There will always be a demand for good Australian books and the Parallel Imports story is irrelevant to that’.

But as Morris pointed out, ‘How can people feel a demand for an author they have never heard of?’

Finally, the question was asked, ‘Why are consumers more important than our culture and the people who create it?’

Thanks to everyone who signed the petition on Saturday night. This issue will be debated in Parliament on 17th September, so we need to ACT NOW!

What you can do: 

  1. Sign the petition at the site http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com
  2. Download a petition from http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com,  and get your friends to sign
  3. Write to your politicians
  4. Meet your politicians in person and express your concerns

Be watching for tomorrow’s post,

Allan Fels Supports Aussie Books