September 23, 2009
Story by: Wenee Yap
Photo supplied by: www.sxc.hu
CEO and Director of the Melbourne University Bookshop, Graeme Connelly, declared the controversy over allowing parallel imports of books into Australia - a move which many have claimed will force local authors out of business - soon to be "quite irrelevant" once the “digital revolution” hits.
In a panel discussion, 'Will freeing parallel imports make books cheaper at the cost of authors', hosted by the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia (IPRIA) and UTS: Law, Connelly said he was “absolutely convinced the digital revolution will happen for books."
"With the iPod, you had the platform, the device, which significantly changed the retailing of music. We're waiting for the iPod moment. With books, we have Kindle. We are on the threshold."
Connelly is sceptical over the Productivity Commission recommendations of direct grants or fellowships to encourage home-grown Australian literature. "In a way, that is an economist’s response to the issue - to prefer things to be transparent and clear, in terms of subsidy rather than hidden in cross-subsidisation.
"I think it fails to understand the sensitivities of authors. Whenever I meet authors and would-be authors, I’m struck by how little they are interested in doing what they do for a financial return," said Connelly.
Dr Rhonda Smith, member of the Federal Government’s Copyright Law Reform Committee and former ACCC Commissioner, demurred. "Parallel import restrictions ignore the realities of the present world. It’s almost a sledgehammer to crack a nut," said Dr Smith, observing that commercial print runs are now much smaller, reducing publishing costs. "If we want to foster authors, then we should do it directly."
Arlen Duke, a Melbourne University law lecturer, considered how the Australian publishing industry might respond to increased competition from parallel imports, in light of the Australian music industry’s similar experience. From his research, he identified 3 main strategies for Australian publishers: develop and supply local authors, pursue efficiency gains within the local publishing industry and take advantage of being local - for example, by offering a 'sales or return' policy as it does not seem to be offered by parallel importers.
"I do still think there is going to be an incentive for local publishers to publish local work," said Duke. "I think if an industry has been protected, it's unlikely that it is as efficient as it could be."
However, Graeme Connelly maintained that this controversy is a sideshow. "This is a purely academic argument. The elephant the room for booksellers, publishers and authors is the digital revolution. I really believe that this is the future of textbook publishing and publishing in general."