Competition review takes aim at book imports

Australian book printers could be dealt a blow with the draft Competition Policy Review report recommending remaining parallel import restrictions be abolished.

Current regulation restricts overseas book imports to 14 days after it is first published in Australia – providing some protection for local industry.

The review panel writes that the restrictions are ‘are effectively an implicit tax on Australian consumers and businesses’ and their removal would ‘promote competition and potentially lower prices of many consumer goods’ and ‘deliver net benefits to the community’.

[Related: More book printing news]

The panel points to a 2008 study showing books were on average 35 per cent, and in many cases 50 per cent, more expensive than editions sold in the US, and says modern technology allows consumers and online retailers like Amazon to easily circumvent restrictions.

‘The impact of changing technology and shifting consumer purchasing practices (such as purchasing books online) means that some of these restrictions are easily circumvented’, the panel writes.

The report quotes a submission by the Australian National Retailers Association arguing the restrictions are ‘outdated regulations that distort competition amongst retailers’ and ‘are effectively an anachronism of a pre digital age’.

Following the PIAA’s submission to the review, chief executive Bill Healey called for the restrictions to be maintained to provide support to the Australian printing industry, which would surely see reduced print volumes if the restrictions were lifted.

“The restrictions should be maintained because many of Australia’s top book printers like Opus and SOS Print & Media have recently invested in new equipment that will make them more competitive,” he says.

“This fits with the overarching theme of the Commission of Audit 'that limited assistance to areas of genuine market failure and occasional transitional assistance to deal with genuine structural change is justified when the benefit of government intervention outweighs the costs'."

Healey pointed out that the restrictions have already been reduced from 30 days for new editions and 90 days for reprints to 14/14 days under a voluntary agreement running for the past year.

“Printers have adjusted to this with fast turnaround digital printers and better efficiency, but if it was removed altogether it would be harmful to the industry and at least require an appropriate adjustment time and compensation,” he says.

The draft report recommends that ‘transitional arrangements should be considered to ensure that affected individuals and businesses are given adequate notice in advance’.

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