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NZ Allows for Parallel Imports, Creating Open Market
Sally Taylor -- 5/25/98
In a "sneak" move by New Zealand's Ministry of Commerce, the new budget, which was passed last week, allows for parallel importing of cars, CDs and books, thereby ignoring international copyright agreements that include New Zealand as a member of the Commonwealth group of book markets traditionally awarded to U.K. publishers and closed to Americans.
While the U.S. embassy in Auckland was considering retaliation and the Association of American Publishers expressed serious concern, backing up the New Zealand Book Publishers Association, the budget has passed, and new ways of importing and distributing books in New Zealand are already being implemented.

It's seen politically as a "pro-consumer" move. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research had issued a report finding that the consumer would benefit from such a move, with cheaper books, a wider range of titles and better service. Retailers support it.

Stefan Preston, general manager of Whitcoulls, a major retailer, was quoted as describing the decision as "tremendous" and predicting that prices of many big-selling titles could now be slashed. But he also warned that there would be "huge implications" for the book industry, and it was possible publishers would no longer want to bother with titles that did not sell well, particularly local titles.

Harriet B. Allan of Random House in New Zealand told PW of the concerns of the New Zealand Book Publishers Association, which include fears that larger book retailers will target the bigger-selling titles and will sell direct, cutting out local distributors, and that backlist and lower-selling titles of cultural significance will be pushed out by a flood of overseas remainders as New Zealand becomes a dumping ground.

Finally, said Allan, "Co-editions and the sales of territorial rights overseas of locally published titles will threaten the viability of local editions. In some cases, the overseas editions may not be educationally or culturally relevant to New Zealand, but ...the cheaper price will win out.... The result will be lower financial returns to local publishers and lower royalty payments to local authors." She concluded: "The Copyright Act is a vital piece of legislation that should not be tampered with in this cavalier fashion."

This will not necessarily be the case. Other countries that are "open market" to books in English from all countries include Japan and Singapore, though the latter is still listed on most copyright contracts as a part of the Commonwealth market from which U.S. titles are excluded. Singapore opened the market to parallel importing five years ago, and in that time book consumption has increased, as have the number and strength of local publishing houses.

Australia has also been considering a move to an open book market, and it will be interesting to see what impact this move by its traditional antipodean rival will have.
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