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Book import plan threatens ‘national identity’

Thursday, 23 June 2016
By Print 21 Online Article

The pulp and paper industry bible has thrown its support behind a printing and publishing industry campaign against Treasurer Scott Morrison’s plan to remove parallel import restrictions on books.

There is more at stake from parallel importation of books than just the price of books. The risk is that independent voices and a distinct culture with a national and unique identity could be lost, says the June 2016 edition of Pulp & Paper Edge – available on the IndustryEdge website.

Concerned by the potential loss of up to AUD2 billion in revenues and 20,000 jobs in the Australian printing and publishing industry, a new campaign has erupted, taking on the Federal government’s new parallel importation rules for books. Sponsored by the Australian Publishers’ Association, the Australian Booksellers Association and the Printing Industry Association are driving the campaign – Books Create Australia 

Some may debate the economic basis of the industry’s argument. Doubtless the Productivity Commission and some of its politician acolytes will do so. However, IndustryEdge considers the industry’s claims about the impact of parallel importation to be entirely conventional and practical. Imports will increase and sector investment and employment will decline if parallel importation is in operation.

In November 2015, Treasurer Scott Morrison announced that the Australian government would progress the recommendations of the Productivity Commission to introduce parallel importation for books, which had previously been ruled out. The Commission suggested that local booksellers would become more competitive and consumers would enjoy lower prices for books, many of which would be sourced from international publishers, rather than domestically.

Leaving aside the massive, but occasional spikes in imports that appear to be directly connected to major periods of government expenditure (including elections), the trend line of printed matter imports in Australia shows solid growth over the last year. In April 2016, imports were valued at AUD44 million, up 51.7% on a year-on-year basis. Over the last year, the total value of printed matter imports was AUD533 million. That is significant value lost from the domestic supply chain and its participants.

In response to the Productivity Commission’s claims and proposals, the industry was immediately hostile and asserted its position to government, both publicly and privately. Industry has argued that the publishing and printing economy in Australia would be severely impacted should the parallel imports commence. They cite New Zealand as an example, where book prices have not reduced for consumers since parallel importation commenced in 1998 and has seen publishers disinvesting in New Zealand, reducing capital deployment and jobs in the sector.

As the Federal election looms, there are plenty of vested interests that establish or regenerate an issue, in order to get some political airtime and as much advantage as they can muster. Such is the way of the modern media-fuelled political process. But, this matter of parallel book imports is different. This is not just today’s cause or even a long-running issue. It is a more than century old challenge about the tyranny of distance and the challenges of securing both domestic manufacturing capacity and encouraging and nourishing a local voice.

Thomas Keneally

There is more at stake from parallel importation of books than just the price of books. The risk is that independent voices and a distinct culture with a national and unique identity could be lost. As the great Australian author Thomas Keneally (pictured, right) says on the Books Create Australia website:

‘Australians deserve that their lives, experiences, country and culture be reflected in the literature that they read.’

We cannot put it better than that.

IndustryEdge is among those that would rather pay a few dollars more for a unique product and voice than suffer from the indignities of lowest common denominator publishing decisions. And if that approach also supports a domestic publishing, printing and paper producing industry – that’s also good.

The Books Create Australia campaign was launched last month at the Australian Book Industry Awards. Over 15,000 Australians have now signed a petition to condemn the governments plan to abolish territorial copyright and move towards a US-style Fair Use system.





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