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 IMPORT RESTRICTIONS – A Closer Look at the Productivity Commission’s Findings – and introducing a new column, “PC CRIT”

PC CRIT 1

This is the FIRST in a series of regular commentaries on the findings of the Productivity Commission’s Research Report into Restrictions on Parallel Importation of Books.

Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions for future column topics.

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

The Productivity Commission has provided you with a document of around 220 pages on why parallel imports on books should be removed. I promise mine won’t be anywhere near as lengthy, but seeing as we live in a democratic society, it seems only fair that the publishing industry gets to have its say.

That’s why I’ve started my column, “PC Crit”, which will go through the Productivity Commission findings and present things from an alternative perspective.

Today’s topic: WHO GAINS FROM PIRs and ARE PIRs REALLY PUSHING UP THE COST OF BOOKS?

In its ‘Key Points’ on page XIV of its Productivity Commission Research Report, the PC claims:

  •  Most of the benefits of PIR protection accrue to publishers and authors, with demand for local printing also increased.

 

  • Most of the costs are met by consumers who fund these benefits in a non-transparent manner through higher book prices.

The flaws in these argument are a matter of straight mathematics, which would be self evident if ‘current’ , independent, objective research was conducted on the subject.

Some chain stores are demanding discounts of up to 70% from publishers. The author gets standard 10% royalty, 10% must also be taken into account for GST, and the publisher, printer and distributor get the rest.

This clearly demonstrates that a disproportionate amount of the book’s retail price goes to the likes of Dymocks, Coles and Big W – and the members of the Coalition for Cheaper Books (frequently quoted in the PC report) the parties behind the move to abolish PIRs.

Clearly, the largest proportion of the price on ‘supposedly overpriced books’ is NOT going to the author, the publisher or the printer.

So how can it be argued that most of ‘anything’ accrues to publishers and authors?

And even if you concede that authors and publishers have the most to gain from PIRs, how can PIRs be blamed for the alleged ‘higher books prices’ when those receiving the benefits of  them are making the MOST financial outlay to produce the book yet receiving the LEAST back from its sale?

And when was price the prime reason for people’s book purchasing decisions? Ask any independent bookseller and they’ll tell you that people don’t walk into their store asking for a $10 book – they ask for something on a particular topic, or by a particular author – or perhaps they just want to read about their own country from someone who knows it well – an Australian author.

Thanks for your time.

Dee White – Author