Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Australian Literature In Asia

The Gioi Publishers in Hanoi -- An Asialink partner
I was delighted to be invited recently to join the Literature Advisory Committee of Asialink. Asialink is based at the University of Melbourne. It promotes public understanding of the countries of Asia and creates links with Asian counterparts. With Literature, Asialink partners with a number of institutions and publishers in a wide range of countries to provide Literature residences.
I believe this sort of interaction helps develop a greater understanding of Australian culture in Asia as well as helping our own writers gain a better cultural awareness of our near neighbours.
I have travelled quite a bit in Asia and engaged with the publishing industry there. There are vast differences between countries. Singapore for example is a market for both English and Chinese books. Singapore is an open market. My experience there though is that books are rather more expensive than they are in Australia.
Malaysia has an established publishing industry that is becoming more sophisticated. There is some English langauge publishing, but the majority of books are published in Bahasa Malay. This linguistic singularity tends to mean the market for Malay books is closed, except for what may be shared with Indonesia.
Thanks to a need to abide by WTO protocols, Indonesia has moved to control piracy in its publishing industry. Piracy is still a problem, but the Indonesians are more and more cognisant of their requirement to abide by international copyright treaties.
The same is true of Vietnam. While many of the publishing houses in Vietnam are still state-owned agencies, including Literature Publishing House which will be producing my book Perfect Timing in translation later this year, publishing is buoyant there. Literacy is Vietnam is high, so there is a potential market of 85 million people. The Vietnamese enjoy Australian literature but don't have access to enough of it. There is no regular exchange of rights between the two countries.
Economics don't help. My book will sell in Vietnam for the equivalent of A$1.50, and my royalty is shared with the translator. I'll only be able to retire on the proceeds if all 85 million Vietnamese buy my book, which I think is highly unlikely.
But the fact that the book will be there and available is a sign that there is interest. If only Australians were as interested in reading the works of our near neighbours.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Parallel importation of books and the income of authors

In a surprise move for Australia's literary creators, the Communique from the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) Meeting of 3 July 2008 includes a reference to a COAG agreement on a number of priority areas for competition reform, including parallel importation of books. According to the Communique, the Commonwealth will request the Productivity Commission to undertake reviews of Australia’s anti-dumping system and parallel import restrictions on books.

What, you may well ask, is parallel importation and why is it important for Australian authors? “Parallel importation” refers to importation of products containing copyright material that are manufactured legitimately in the country of origin. In the case of books, parallel importation requires permission from the Australian copyright owner, unless the book was not published in Australia within 30 days of its publication overseas, or the Australian copyright owner cannot supply the book within 90 days.

To ensure Australian bookbuyers had access to the most recent of overseas-published books, the Australian rights up to then to which were often held by a British or US publisher who delayed or withheld distribution of the book in Australia, the Copyright Act was amended in 1991 to allow parallel importation in the circumstances outlined above, following a report of the Prices Surveillance Authority. The Act was subsequently amended to allow parallel importation in more extensive circumstances for CDs, computer software and computer games. There is substantial evidence that this has led to a massive decline in the sales of Australian recorded music, though this is difficult to measure when recording companies first responded to the advent of digital technology with a "head in the sand" approach and lost many sales to unauthorised downloads.

The Australian book publishing industry these days is worth over $1.5 billion. It is Australia's most successful creative industry. Australian books make up nearly 70% of those sold in Australia. The industry has also been very successful in exporting the works of our literary creators, so much so that Shaun Tan and Garth Nix and Nick Earls and Margaret Wild and Tom Keneally and Geraldine Brooks and James Bradley etc. etc. are best-sellers overseas. But they are best sellers in editions licensed to those overseas marketplaces. These licensed editions bring our literary creators welcome additional income. However, if parallel importation restrictions are removed, our literary creators will lose the home market to other editions for which they will receive minimal or no royalties.

The proponents of an open market argue that books would become cheaper for consumers and that 90 days is still too long to wait for a book from the Australian copyright owner. Both of these points are arguable. What the proponents do not point out, though, is that both of the biggest English language book markets, the Uk and the USA, are essentially closed markets in that the sales of books licensed to other territories is prohibited in much the same way as it is in Australia. But both these markets are also many, many times larger than the Australian market. Overwhelming, the books sold in both of those markets are produced especially for each market. It would be rare for a UK edition to sell in the USA and vice versa. But we are being asked to accept an open market for Australia when our market is so much smaller and already much more competitive. This would disappear if all editions were allowed into Australia. It would destroy our publishing industry, which has taken over a hundred years to evolve to the point where the major part of the content sold is Australian and the industry is profitable.

What is more, we would lose our literary culture. And the only people to benefit would be those who are supporting the Productivity Commission review -- and that seems to be primarily the chain bookseller Dymocks. You could be forgiven for thinking that Dymocks are prepared to sacrifice Australia's fragile liteary culture to increase their own profit levels by selling cheap imported editions of overseas books and what would be tantamount to pirated editions of Australian books. But surely that could not be the case when the Hon Bob Carr, former NSW Premier and in that position noted proponent of Australian literature, is on the Dymocks board?

Garth Nix has written a very comprehensive letter about the matter in Australian Bookseller and Publisher. Nick Earls has written to the Prime Minister on the issue. Both of these letters are worth reading, and you can here. They are very balanced approaches to a complex issue, though a simple one for Australia's liteary creators -- their very survival.

This isn't a matter that's simply about the cheapest price. It's about the maintenance of a distinctively Australian culture, about reading our own stories, hearing our own voices. Can you put a price on that?

Authors need to show their opposition to any proposed changes to the current restrictions on parallel importation of books. Take up your pens and write directly to the Prime Minister and the Federal Attorney-General, as well as your State Premier and State Attorney-General. Writing to all of these is necessary as the matter has been raised at COAG and thus becomes a cross-jurisdictional issue.

There will be more on this issue.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Lending Rights distributes distributes over $17 million

The 2006-07 annual report of the Public Lending Right (PLR) scheme has been released, showing detailed figures on the recipients of over $7 million in funds from PLR and $10.4 million from the Educational Lending Right (ELR).
PLR makes payments to eligible authors and publishers whose books are held in public libraries; ELR covers educational libraries. In 2006-07, 626 new claimants registered for the PLR program, 2808 new books were registered and 8866 claims were paid. Payments were made to 8866 creators and publishers under the PLR scheme, and 10,261 creators and publishers under the ELR scheme.
The report charts the 100 highest-scoring books for PLR in the past three and 30 years; the top 100 highest-scoring books in ELR for 2006-07; and the 100 largest payments to publishers.

The top 10 books held in public libraries for the three years 2004-05, 05-06 and 06-07 were:
1. Possum Magic (Mem Fox, Scholastic)
2. Where is the Green Sheep? (Mem Fox, Puffin)
3. Whitethorn (Bryce Courtenay, Penguin)
4. Seven Ancient Wonders (Matthew Reilly, Pan Macmillan)
5. Scarecrow (Matthew Reilly, Pan Macmillan)
6. Flags and Emblems of Australia (Jill B Bruce, S&S)
7. Looking for Alibrandi (Melina Marchetta, Penguin)
8. Dirt Music (Tim Winton, Picador)
9. The Reef (Di Morrissey, Pan)
10. Brother Fish (Bryce Courtenay, Penguin)

The 10 highest scoring books in the ELR scheme for 2006-07 were:
1. Possum Magic (Mem Fox, Scholastic)
2. Wombat Stew (Marcia K Vaughan, Scholastic)
3. Rowan of Rin (Emily Rodda, Scholastic)
4. Hating Alison Ashley (Robin Klein, Puffin)
5. The Paw Thing (Paul Jennings, Puffin)
6. Where the Forest Meets the Sea (Jeannie Baker, Walker Books)
7. Two Weeks With the Queen (Morris Gleitzman, Pan)
8. Playing Beatie Bow (Ruth Park, Puffin)
9. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (Mem Fox, Scholastic)
10. The Cabbage Patch Fib (Paul Jennings, Puffin)
To obtain a copy of the report, and for more information on PLR and ELR, go to

Will income ever come to authors from digital sales?

In November, 2007, the US Book Industry Study Group (BISG) met and discussed income from the digital supply chain. Digital issues remain at the core of what BISG is currently focusing on as a new type of supply chain, “a digital supply chain”, is emerging. However, if the sale of digital information is to be successful new standards need to be set and ways to identify digital products need to be developed. The common supply chain model for the digital environment involves the ability to sell pieces of books digitally. This results in an explosion of content fragments that need to be identified so that their sales can be tracked..
Managing fragment sales will be far more complicated than monitoring sales of print books, which have at most two or three editions (hardcover, trade paperback and mass market paperback). The challenge is managing hundreds of thousands of pieces of content. What is needed is a system that can manage not only print editions of a work, but an expanding range of digital products that includes audio, e-book, customized texts and various fragment sales such as the sale of book chapters. One proposed solution is the International Standard Text Code (ISTC), which is expected to be introduced next year and will bring together all the different formats of a piece of content under one identification number.