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The Australian book industry publishes more than 7000 titles every year, generating $2 billion in revenue, investing $120 million in Australian books and their promotion, employing 20,000 Australians across the industry. The Australian book industry does not depend on tariffs or subsidies. This is the largest cultural success story in the country.
However, the Productivity Commission made a recommendation to the Australian government in a report made public in December 2016 that could put all this at risk. The Productivity Commission recommended that Australia lift parallel importation rules (PIRs) on books.
Currently the parallel importation of books into Australia is regulated, which means that retailers can only buy bulk copies of a book from the publisher who holds Australian rights. That publisher has to make that book available in Australia very quickly in order to retain their exclusivity, however, and both booksellers and consumers are free to purchase single copies of any book direct from the overseas supplier at any time.
Opponents of PIRs hope that if the rules changed, local booksellers will become more competitive with lower retail prices and timelier availability of titles. However, the reality is that Australia is a highly competitive book market with bookshops, book chains, discounters, department stores and local and international internet retailers all slugging it out with the result that book prices have dropped in real terms by 30% in the last 10 years. In addition, many popular titles are routinely sold at 35% discount in major retail chains.
The removal of PIRs would essentially dismantle the concept of territorial copyright for Australian authors and their publishers, a benefit that would still be enjoyed by their colleagues in the UK and USA. This would have the effect of:
In December 2015 the Federal government announced plans to proceed with the removal of PIRs on books upon the completion of the Productivity Commission's review into Intellectual Property. The ASA calls upon the government to reverse this decision. Do not to allow unproven free market ideology to reduce the voices of Australian authors to a whisper. We call upon the government to retain territorial copyright.
In December 2015, the ASA authored a petition against the parallel importation of books. The ASA petition became the focus of an industry-wide campaign bringing together the ASA, the Australian Publishers Association (APA), the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) and others as Books Create Australia, and over 12 months gained nearly 20,000 signatures from authors, illustrators, publishers, editors, literary agents, printers and book-lovers.
With the help of the ASA, members made passionate submissions to the Productivity Commission in defence of the local industry that supports them, wrote to Federal MPs and Senators and campaigned with messages to readers on social media and at festivals and events.
In addition, the ASA made its own submission to the Productivity Commission in May 2016, accompanied by a letter of support from the International Authors Forum. The Books Create Australia alliance organised press and events to raise public awareness and put 20,000 bookmarks directing readers towards the ASA petition in independent Australian bookshops.
Finally, in November 2016 Books Create delegates acommpanied authors Hannah Kent, Andy Griffiths, Magda Szubanski and Jackie French to Parliament House for a formal presentation of the ASA petition to Labor MP Tony Burke.
Hannah Kent presents ASA petition against parallel importation to Tony Burke MP
The Books Create delegation then spent three days traversing Parliament House, meeting with more than 20 MPs and Senators from all parties to speak against the Productivity Commission's mission to make sweeping changes to the Copyright Act, based on out-of-date information and a very close-minded approach. The culmination of the 2016 Books Create campaign, this was the first time the book industry has spoken with one voice on the issue of territorial copyright.
The delegation was met with a reassuring level of understanding and support, and while the economic ideologues remained immune to arguments concerning the importance of books for our culture and national identity, they were more open to considering the potential for job losses and threats to the financial viability of our industry. The delegates met with politicians from all sides of government with the result that the Nick Xenophon Team, Jacqui Lambie and the Australian Labor Party all publicly declared their support for Australian books and opposition to parallel importation.
The result is of the Books Create campaign is that any legislative change to allow the parallel importation of books is unlikely to get through the Senate. However, unlikely does not mean impossible. You can help ensure our victory by writing to your local MP and Senator. Federal politicians are swamped by emails so if you can do it, a letter will pack more of a punch. Let them know what parallel importation could mean for you in your professional practice as an author or illustrator. Invite them to speak with you or the ASA further on the issue. Ask them to take action by opposing parallel importation of books in their party's arts and communications policy.
And, if you haven't already, consider joining the ASA. The ASA's lobbying efforts in Canberra would not be possible without our members' support. The more voters we can show we represent, the clearer our voice will be heard by the politicians with the power to make change.
Alternatively, if you're already a member or prefer to contribute without joining the ASA, you can donate to our Endowment Fund. Donations to the Endowment Fund go directly towards supporting the ASA to lobby and campaign for the rights and professional interests of authors and illustrators.
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