Big guns weigh in to the PIR debate

Posted: November 28, 2015 in Ranting
Tags: , , , , ,

The Australian government recently announced it is going to work on getting rid of Parallel Import Restrictions on books coming in to Australia. In short, it opens the way for dumping cheap copy from overseas. That may seem OK if it means cheaper books but there are serious flow-on effects. Australian large-scale printing basically comes to an end, meaning loss of jobs and loss of economic growth that will not be made by cheap imports. There would be very little incentive for publishers based in Australia to go signing up talent because they will not be able to compete in the market. Existing authors lose income. New authors don’t make to publishing houses. It is not a good deal when you look at the bigger picture. Of course if they were really serious about supposedly dropping the price of books, then they can take one simple step immediately – drop GST off at least retail book sales. There is a one-eleventh saving straight away. But that won’t be happening. If we cannot get government to lift GST from necessities such as tampons then the chances of reducing covering to books has as much chance of happening as I have of cleaning out the flying pig stables.

Professor Allan Fels (Photo: Alex Ellinghausen)

Professor Allan Fels (Photo: Alex Ellinghausen)

This issue was only last addressed by the Labor government under Kevin Rudd in 2009. Professor Allan Fels wrote a report on the matter for the Australian Productivity Commission in which he strongly advocated for removing PIRs. He admitted that there would be flow-on effects and suggested this could be addressed by the government handing out grants to authors in lieu of lost income. But if he really thought a government was going to do that, then he was bloody dreaming. And that did not do anything to address the matter of new authors being lost to mainstream publishing. In November, 2009, Fels was due to debate the matter with Louise Alder, CEO of Melbourne University Publishing, at the National Press Club. I was going to be there as part of an invited group. However earlier that morning the government announced that it would not be dispensing with PIRs, so with the subject presumably dead I decided not to attend. However I wish I had as Fels had a good old dummy spit, claiming that the only opposition was the “clamour of a few authors who are driven by publisher interests.” Complete crap.

So here we are in 2015 and we’re about to go through the whole charade again. However we now have a government which – whether it be Tony Abbott or Malcolm Rudd – has very much demonstrated it does not give a damn about opposition from citizens of the nation they are supposed to be governing. No doubt Fels shall be rubbing his hands together in delight right about now.

Richard Flanagan and Tom Keneall ( Photo: Sahlan Hayes)

Richard Flanagan and Tom Keneall ( Photo: Sahlan Hayes)

With that background, big name Australian authors Peter Carey, Richard Flanagan and Tom Keneally have published an open letter to the Prime Minister in Fairfax Media and they spell out some hard home truths, ideological and economic, about the falsehood of dispensing with PIRs.

If, like me, you are opposed to this then it’s time to start writing to the players like the Prime Minister and the Opposition.



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