At a panel discussion at BookExpo America, Atria's Judith Curr told conference-goers that the Australian publishing industry and its book market—still relatively new since its release from being a U.K. or Canadian territory in 1946—is surging. But is that market, and perhaps the very vibrancy of Australian literary culture, under threat?

On June 30, the Australian government's Productivity Commission is set to decide whether to recommend a change to the rules on parallel imports for books: a controversial plan supported by a major bookselling chain and a department store, but strongly opposed by the vast majority of the Australian literary community, which maintains that the change would render Australia's hard-won territorial copyright moot and severely harm Australia's publishing business. “What they propose amounts to a return to the colonial days,” author Richard Flanagan told attendees of the Sydney Writers Festival in his closing address on May 24, “when Australian companies merely sold books from another country, and we bought with them notions of life that bore little relevance to our own world.”

At issue is a provision many in the literary community say has helped fuel the rise of Australia's publishing industry, a parallel import restriction (PIR), adopted since 1991, that states that if a book is published in a local edition within 30 days of its foreign publication, Australian booksellers must sell the local rather than foreign version. The Australian Productivity Commission's draft report has recommended keeping the 30-day rule—but has also recommended that the protection period be limited to 12 months, rather than the term of the copyright. And if a work should become “unavailable” during that year of protection, the protection period would end, and imports would be allowed. “The commission recognizes that the PIRs provide certainty to local publishers to invest in the publication of new titles,” the draft reads. “But current provisions seem overly restrictive.”

Supporters of the rule point to a quickly growing—if still vulnerable—publishing and literary culture, an industry that went from virtually nothing to some A$2.5 billion annual in sales within a matter of decades, returning some A$75 million in tax revenues to Australia's coffers. Government statistics show there are now some 4,000 book publishers in Australia, although, the Productivity Commission's report adds, a handful of large publishers account for most publishing activity. From 2007 to 2008, statistics also show that locally authored works accounted for 40% of total book sales in Australia, and that foreign rights sales for Australian authors have also “grown strongly.”

Those who support the rule change, however, say the restrictions don't necessarily help local authors and mean higher prices for consumers. While the report suggested that PIRs led to “upward pressure” on prices, it conceded there was little solid evidence to back that up. A coalition led by major bookseller Dymock's and department store Coles-Woolworths, dubbed the Coalition for Cheaper Books, recently released a price comparison that showed that books by authors who appeared at the Sydney Writers' Festival, including Flanagan, were between 25% and 40% cheaper when purchased online from a U.K. retailer. The Association of Australian Publishers, which strongly opposes any change to the PIR, released its own price survey in April. It found that Australian book prices were “highly competitive” with books from the U.S. and U.K. markets—cheaper, even—and slammed the commission's vague claim of “upward pressure” on prices as “not holding water.”

Why Change?

For his part, Flanagan told some 400 gathered for his closing address in Sydney that his books are not cheaper in Australia when imported in foreign editions; that, despite deep discounts on, with currency adjustments, shipping and tax, his latest novel, Wanting, was actually more expensive on Amazon than in an Australian bookstore. He stressed, however, that beyond the argument for cheaper books, a greater sense of purpose united the opposition to the change in the PIR: the vibrancy of Australian literature.

“The concentration of ownership of book retailing in the hands of one or two chains, as in Britain and the U.S.A., has been catastrophic for the book industries in those countries,” Flanagan asserted. On the other hand, “the Australian book retail sector—with its strong and varied mix of independents, chains and discount department stores—is regarded as one of the healthiest and most diverse in the world, enabling large volume, large variety and price competition.” The Coalition for Cheaper Books, Flanagan quipped, was little more than a “Coalition for Bigger Business.”

With the Productivity Commission's proposal due to be delivered to the prime minister on June 30, its fate remains unclear—although increasing opposition among government officials has given hope to those opposed to the change. The bottom line, say opponents like Flanagan, is, why risk removing the PIR and possibly damaging a growing, vibrant publishing industry when there is little evidence to support the benefits of the proposed change? “Australian publishing over the last four decades is an extraordinary cultural achievement,” Flanagan notes. “Today we sell more books per capita than most nations. We read Australian stories from cradle to grave, and the best of our writing is judged around the world as globally significant. It is also an outstanding commercial success, a story that might warm the heart of the coldest free trader.”

Tokyo Fair Set for July
The 16th annual Tokyo International Book Fair will be held July 9—12. Organized by Reed Exhibitions Japan Ltd., the fair focuses on rights, with a robust children's area and a growing digital section. Last year's fair brought 763 exhibitors and 61,384 visitors; this year, organizers are hoping for 800 exhibitors and 63,000 visitors. Publishers from 30 countries typically attend.

In May, TIBF invited exhibitors and attendees to join its Rights Trade Support Service, a Web site now in its third year that lets exhibiting publishers post their rights information and allows publishers and agents to send messages to each other and set up appointments.

The exhibit hall will include a separate area for children's publishers that has been expanding, attracting 38 exhibitors in 2004 and 73 last year. TIBF spokesperson Eiko Han attributes the growth to the expansion of the Japanese and other Asian children's book markets, which has created a demand for domestic children's books as well as for books from abroad. “Books with international elements, including illustrations, have great appeal in this market,” she said. Sales of new Japanese children's books at Kinokuniya, the country's largest bookstore chain, have gone up 26% in the past five years.

Concurrent with the book fair will be the Digital Publishing Fair, a separate area focusing on e-book technologies and services. Exhibitors in that space include companies that provide e-publishing technologies, delivery and distribution services as well as companies that distribute e-books through mobile phones—an extremely popular medium in Japan—and game consoles. According to fair organizers, Japan's e-book market was up 195% in 2007 from 2006, to $355 million.

Registration information is available at—Lynn Andriani
Frankfurt Fair Stays Put
The Frankfurt Book Fair will remain at its traditional spot on the Main for at least the next 13 years. Frankfurt's mayor, along with Michael von Zitzewitz of the Frankfurt exhibition grounds, fair director Juergen Boos, and director of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association Dr. Gottfried Honnefelder jointly announced that the fair will remain in Frankfurt to 2022.

Boos said, “For an international event with the magnitude of the Frankfurt Book Fair, it is important to have reliability in the planning and a dependable partner in the organization. We found such a partner in the Messe Frankfurt in 1951 and we are looking forward to further long-term collaboration.”

This year's fair will take place October 14—18, and China will be the guest of honor country.—L.A.
Bologna Fair Drops a Day
For the first time in its 46-year history, next year's Bologna Children's Book Fair will take place over three days—Tuesday, March 23, through Thursday, March 25—not its traditional four days.

In making the switch, fair manager Roberta Chinni told PW that the fair was trying to be responsive to its exhibitors. “We hadn't had specific requests to reduce the number of days,” she said, “but publishers were very enthusiastic when we raised the suggestion.” And she said the one-day reduction was a reflection of new realities in the trade show world.

Next year's Bologna fair will also focus more on children's licensing; Italy has no licensing show per se, and in 2010 a pavilion adjacent to the book fair will house a concurrent licensing exhibition.—Diane Roback