Thursday, 29 October 2009

A sort of Fahrenheit 451 - the book laws

I think I muttered something about this somewhere else - maybe. More needs to be said. The Productivity Commission recommended that the existing legislation which 'protects' the Australian publishing industry be scrapped and that we have an open market for books.
The row is still going on. There was a piece in yesterday's Australian. I'll get to that in a moment but I also picked up a sheet in the local "indie" bookshop.
It states "books are not overpriced in Australia", that we pay about the same as the UK and the US over time and considering such things as freight and GST. Well, for a start there should be no GST (tax) on books. You should never tax knowledge. Freight is a problem in our part of the world. We live too far away. That will, partially, be overcome by technology - e-books and the like will become more common. There is other technology which would allow books, even single copies, to be printed here without too much trouble. So, I have difficulty with this argument.
Then there is the argument that books are unlikely to be cheaper. You always have to pay for quality. Our indie has some nice books. Yes, they are expensive. They would be expensive anywhere in the world. You are going to have to pay for them. I have no problem with that if I want a book as a thing of beauty. I do have a problem when I merely want to immerse myself in a crime yarn for an hour or two or I need information.
Then our indie says it will not be able to offer the range or diversity that it does now. I do not understand this argument. It says Australian publishers are going to take fewer risks with Australian authors - they do not take many now - and that they will also bring in less books from overseas. Does this mean that they will stop importing books? I thought the idea was that we would be able to import books more cheaply and much more quickly. I must go and ask about that.
Then they say that "author events will be a thing of the past". I doubt it. The publishing companies may say that they have less to spend on author events but our peculiar geography means that author events get held in capital cities like Sydney and Melbourne and the rest of us have to wait until Festival of Arts time and Writers' Week - which nowadays tends to be more of a Book Market than an actual Writers' Week.
Then there is the argument that Indie booksellers will be under threat because, like corner grocery stores of old, the big chains have greater buying power. Answer to that one? The Indies get their act together and form a cooperative buying group? Is that possible? I don't know.
I like my local Indie. I buy presents for other people in there on a reasonably regular basis.
However I have a problem. If I can buy a book on line for $56 (including postage) and get it in ten days then am I going to pay $73 at my Indie and wait six to eight weeks? When I am buying this book for the small library of an organisation I belong to I actually have a duty to buy the book for the lesser price.
Our Indie sellers do contribute to the community. Our local Indie has a variety of groups associated with the shop. They bring people in. When we sit and knit in full view it brings people in. Sometimes they buy a book. That is good. Even if they just look it is good. They may come back and buy later. They will talk about what they have seen.
Our Indies source different books and my own particular Indie is good at tracking down unusual requests. I can talk books in there - although our tastes tend to differ wildly.
Now yesterday there was another report in the Australian. A Victorian backbencher - who just happens to have a major printing company in the backyard of his electorate - is unhappy about the proposed rule changes. He says that it will just add a higher value to the bottom line of retailers like Dymocks and Woolworths.
I am not sure any of this is right. The reality is that, if it is cheaper elsewhere, then people will go ahead and buy it elsewhere. Others will still wander into their Indie - if it still exists. Dymocks and, more particularly, Woolworths will continue to cater for the mass market "I want a book to read on holiday" reader. The younger generation will use more e-books and may read less if e-books prove to be what I believe they will be - less comfortable to read. It won't solve the problem for the Indie in the more remote and less populated areas of Australia but retaining the old rules and denying Australians ready access to all types of reading matter will not help either.
We need to have a wider and more intense debate on this issue. In the meantime I will use my Indie for some sorts of book and, reluctantly, the online resources for the others. I refuse to bow to the Fahrenheit 451 argument which prices books out of the reach of many. The answer is simple. We must encourage people to buy more books.


Tony said... - the reason why I'll probably never buy anything from a 'real' bookshop again. If I can get obscure classics at UK prices (which, especially at the current exchange rate, are much lower than in Australia), in less time than it takes Borders to do the same thing (if they can find them) and without any postage or 'handling' fees, why would I buy anything from non-digital booksellers? Sad, but inevitable.

catdownunder said...

Sad indeed - I do not have a credit card or I would use book depository too...hmmm is that the reason I do not have a credit card? Probably.
It bothers me Tony. I do not believe that the current situation actually protects Australian authors - the big names get published overseas and the small local presses will still handle the local authors.

Tony said...

I think one of the arguments was that books by local authors would be imported from overseas publishers and that royalties from these (cheaper) copies would be much lower. Whether that's true or not is anyone's guess...

I also read that it's not cheap copies from the US and the UK they're worried about as much as very cheap copies (of inferior quality) from India and China.

Bsically, it's a very complicated situation which someone needs to sort out.

catdownunder said...

I have heard that argument too - I doubt it is true. If it is true then there is something wrong with the contract!

Rachel Fenton said...

Too many numbers, too many numbers!!!

E-books, schmee books - jump up and down on one and see if you can still read your book! Books - proper books - work all the time and are worth the money - buy more books!

I thought that people who tried to control what other people read were called dictators ?:)

catdownunder said...

The Australian government has been controlling what we read for years and I do not mean the material that does not get past the censor. There are a lot of books we never see because importing them is just too much of a hassle. We also have 'central buying' for the library system - but that's another story!