The PC disappoints on book parallel imports

Regular readers know that I favour parallel importing of books into Australia because I want to encourage reading of them. The Productivity Commission just released its draft report into the issue. It identifies me as one of the chief types of people who would benefit from restrictions on parallel imports (I am an Australian author, whose books are sold overseas and most of the books I sell are educational texts at a currently high price). So my income would go down if parallel importing were allowed. My point being: when I continue to say that I want parallel imports, I say this in the context where it would harm my income.

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I sadly don’t have time to go into the details of the PC’s report but will do so later on. The chief policy recommendation is that parallel imports be allowed 12 months after the publication of the book in Australia. So I have to say, that is an improvement over the current blanket ban.

So who does this hurt? Well, me. My textbooks make their money mostly after the first 12 months of publication. In addition, a book like Parentonomics was published overseas 8 months after its publication in Australia. Let me tell you, no one is printing large volumes of that until after 12 months.

But who does it protect? It protects the predictable best sellers. If you are expected to have a big selling book, you can charge a high price in Australia during the time you expect to sell most of it. Let me tell you: culturally and otherwise, these are not the authors most in need of protection. But let’s not pretend this is protecting the untried Australian authors. It is not. It is a tweak to deregulation so that politicians do not have to answer complaints from noted authors in the press. But then again, if that works to get some form of deregulation, so be it.

The big loss is, of course, to the future. We need an amazon.com in Australia with all that it brings but they won’t set up shop here unless they can sell the bestsellers cheaply to get customers used to online purchasing. So who else does this rule protect? Current bricks and mortar booksellers.

Finally, the Productivity Commission is claiming that it supports evidence based policy making. I cannot imagine many sectors as data filled as bookselling and publishing. Yet, is there is a single bit of quantitative data analysis? No. The whole report is full of recounting the opinions of submitters to the Commission. What is more there is hardly a single academic study – of which there are many – that is cited by the Commission let alone relied upon.

[Update: Actually I am told there was some quantitative work behind this and it will be available soon as a technical appendix. So that last paragraph may need to be qualified.]

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