Parallel import change threat to Aussie books

Printers, publishers and authors are advocating fiercely against the Turnbull government’s new plans to relax restrictions on overseas book imports, saying it will hurt the Australian book industry.

The federal government is set to rescind existing parallel importation restrictions (PIRs) on Australian books, and says it will ‘progress’ with abolishing the restrictions once the Productivity Commission’s intellectual property inquiry is completed next year.

The change comes as part of the Harper review into competition, which has just been released, and which the government says it will follow, in order it says to increase competition, which in turn will drive economic growth.

Under the current law, Australian book publishers have 30 days to establish their copyright for a book by making it available in Australia. If they manage to within this timeframe, book retailers are restricted from importing copies from overseas suppliers for 14 days.

The Aus government argued the removal of PIRs will ‘make local booksellers more competitive with international suppliers, promote lower prices for consumers and ensure the timely availability of titles’.

A number of publishing bodies responded to the PIR lift plans, saying the legislation will hurt Australian authors’ chances to compete with international titles.

[Related: Abolishing book import restrictions]

Australian Publishers Association chief executive Michael Gordon-Smith describes the plan as ‘sad and disappointing’ and will have a long term negative effect for Aussie authors, printers and publishers.

“It is a poor decision for Australian readers, and if it goes ahead there will be unfortunate results for the publishing industry,” he says.

“The change will make life far more difficult for domestic publishers and we will lose the Australian voice in authorship.”

Gordon-Smith also says the decision will significantly affect local publishing houses competing with international suppliers in what he calls an ‘unfair balance’ of distribution.

“With the PIRs there is some measure of exclusivity for the Australian industry, and taking it away will make it extremely difficult for smaller publishers and authors to make sales,” he says.

“The APA will continue to advocate against this and will try to get the government to understand copyright and intellectual property laws.”

A Griffin Press submission to the Productivity Commission’s review stated the company ‘has been able to invest heavily in global best practice equipment and employee training to lift its competitiveness in a global market. This investment would not be able to be recouped if the rules were abolished’.

ProPrint reached out to Griffin Press general manager Ben Jolly who declined to comment on the matter.  Jason Allen, CEO of the PIAA and Cliff Brigstocke, CEO of McPherson’s owner Opus were not available for comment.

Both Griffin and McPherson's have invested heavily in high speed digital book printing systems in the last four years, designed to enable them to offer on-demand books, and so mitigate against imports.

Intellectual Property and Free Trade Unit former director Tim Wilson penned a document titled Unbinding Book Barriers which argues the liberalisation could decrease the price of books by more than 30 per cent without harming Aussie authors.

Wilson says the PIR removal will have ‘no impact on book sales’ in the domestic industry, and argues Australia should follow New Zealand and commence dropping the legislation.

“If New Zealand is an indicator, the likely benefits for the Australian book industry are large,” he says.

However Gordon-Smith commented on the state of NZ’s local industry, describing it as ‘poorer than ever’.

The Rudd government led an inquiry into abolishing PIRs in 2009, but backed down following a powerful campaign by Australian printers, authors and publishers, and the local Bendigo MP, who stood to lose 300 print jobs in his constituency.

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