The Australian government is once again entertaining proposals to turn the country into an “open market,” thus allowing booksellers to import U.S. and U.K. titles without restrictions. Currently, booksellers must wait 30 days after first publication of the overseas edition before importing the title, and can only do so if an Australian edition is not published during that period.
But, in an unprecedented move, the Australian Booksellers Association has joined with the Australian Publishers Association, the Australian Society of Authors, Australian Literary Agents Association and the Print Industry Association of Australia in protesting the suggested changes, which also include shortening the author’s copyright protection and expanding fair use in the educational context.
Australia’s publishing industry produces some 7,000 new titles per year (trade and education) and generates approximately AUD $2 billion ($1.45 billion) in revenue. For existing publishing contracts, it is considered a distinct territory, yet last year, the Australian Productivity Commission, a government think-tank, again reviewed existing copyright laws and the book market. Their report suggested that the prices of Australian books were too high when compared with similar editions available abroad. It proposed opening the market to foreign editions in an effort to give consumers the option to purchase cheaper foreign editions, which in turn would likely result in pushing down local book prices.
Yet, argues Michael Gordon-Smith, CEO of the Australian Publishers Association, the move would damage the industry itself. “These changes would not be good for Australian readers or retailers. Australian readers treasure Australian writing, and there would be less of it,” he says. To block the changes, the Australian publishing industry has created the public awareness campaign Books Create Australia program (#bookscreate) which the Australian Booksellers Association has now joined.
Joel Becker, CEO of Australian Booksellers Association, added, “The ABA is working collaboratively with the Australian Publishers Association to explore new options for further improving competitive pricing and the availability of stock for Australian consumers. Both organizations are absolutely committed to the importance of Australian territorial copyright - in providing value, range and quality to Australian readers, and to the crucial long-term value of the industry and our customers.”
The Productivity Commission believes their proposed changes — which will also curtail protections on patents — could save Australian consumers as much as AUD $1 billion. According to Copyright Clearance Center, a study conducted last year by accounting firm PwC Australia found that the current copyright system supports some AUD $73 billion (USD $53 billion) of economic value.
Should the changes be implemented, publishers, who will be competing both with grey market imports, and authors, who stand to lose the long-term security of copyright protection, expect to suffer.
“Rather like the vampire that refuses to die, this old chestnut, beloved of dry economic ideologues, refuses to die but has simply slunk off back to its coffin to bide its time. Now it's out again,” says Andrew Wilkins, director of Wilkins Farago, a children’s book publisher in Melbourne, referring to the proposed changes. “Almost unanimously, Australia's writers, booksellers and publishers believe this proposed changes will demolish the foundations of what has been a vibrant and viable English language book market.”