The Coalition for Cheaper Books -- a front for Dymocks, Woolworths and Coles -- has used the Dymocks Booklovers email list to call for support for its campaign to destroy writing and publishing in Australia. Authors must react to this to help defeat any moves to change the current restrictions on the parallel imporartation of books.
Remember, these restrictions are not unique to Australia. They exist in the UK and the USA and Canada and most other book markets. Australia is not a special case of a protected market. It is part of the norm of the trading of rights in publishing.
In this context, for Dymocks to ask "Do you you want cheaper books?" is a very simplistic ploy -- who doesn't want any purchased items cheaper? Who wouldn't answer "yes" to such a question?
But what the Coalition for Cheaper Books fails to state is that the Productivity Commission's interim report into the restrictions on parallel importation of books did not find books were more expensive in Australia. The report in fact notes that Australian publishing is "flourishing". Despite this it proposed destroying territorial copyright -- the right authors have to contract in their own markets. The Commission agrees that this would lead to 'a reduction in publishing activity’, ‘authors would generally face reductions in their income’, ‘lower royalty payments’, ‘would likely result in some authors exiting the market, and might discourage some others from entering it’, ‘new or undiscovered authors would find it more difficult to gain attention in an open market’, and there would be ‘difficulty for all new authors in obtaining local publication.’ Nevertheless, the Productivity Commission still champions the discredited philosophies of "free markets", so it's willing to allow the destruction of Australia's literary culture for an unproved hypothesis that books might -- just might -- become cheaper in Australia as a result.
But the Productivity Commission is driven by economic theory after all. There must be a economic problem that their proposed solution will fix. Perhaps bookselling in Australia is in crisis? Booksellers must be having trouble making a buck, so the Productivity Commission extends them some help.
But, no, the Coalition for Cheaper Books is not claiming that business is bad. On the contrary, business for Dymocks is doing very well, as Director Bob Carr claimed on 17 March on page 21 in the Inner Western Courier. The problem, though, is that Dymocks operates on a 2% margin. This isn't good enough for the company's shareholders so to improve it they want Australian writers out of the way and Australian publishers subjugated.
Did I hear someone whisper "greed"? Isn't this the same attitude that brought about the gobal financial crisis? Dismiss any regulation in the marketplace in pursuit of greater profit? Do I see a coincidence of views between the Productivity Commission and Dymocks -- profit is good, culture is bad?
To be fair, the Productivity Commission devotes considerable time to cultural issues and recognises the importance of Australian authored and published books. The Coalition for Cheaper Books does not.
Theirs is an arrogant attitude Australia's authors must resist. On 16 April, Brisbane authors are planning to picket Dymocks' Queen Street store to highlight this arrogance.
The fight must now be taken past the Productivity Commission. Australian authors and lovers of Australian literature must now write -- and I mean write real letters -- to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, who ultimately will decide what happens.
What should happen is nothing. The Productivity Commission hasn't found any real problem. So, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I urge you to write to the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the Treasurer Wayne Swan, the Assistant Treasuer Chris Bowen, the Minister for the Arts Peter Garrett and other members of Cabinet calling on them to reject the Productivity Commission's report.
Write to your local MP too. To send your letter to their electorate office, find their address at:
http://www.aph.gov.au/House/members/memlist.pdf. If you don’t know what electorate you’re in and therefore who your MP is, go to: http://apps.aec.gov.au/esearch/
You can send letters to the Prime Minister and Cabinet (or your local MP) to Parliament House:
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600