Apparently, Australian authors are against allowing parallel importing of books, specifically, their books. This is where, if an Australian author publishes their book overseas, then overseas publishers can sell that book back in Australia. They claim that their publishers here can’t earn enough if they face that competition (from themselves!).

[DDET Read more]

LINGERING in an American warehouse is a threat to Morris Gleitzman’s wellbeing. Books. His books. Books he has written that have been sold for publication in the substantial US market. The problem, as he concedes, is that he is not well known there and his books do not do as well as in Australia.

So the books in this particular warehouse are ones that have been remaindered — sold to a specialist bookseller by his American publisher at a substantially reduced rate to get them off its hands.

What worries Gleitzman is that a proposed change to the Copyright Act would allow the American dealer who bought his remaindered copies to dump them in the Australian market.

So let me guess this straight. Gleitzman does well in Australia but his publisher makes mistakes overseas. And remember that overseas publisher exists at the choice of Gleitzman and his Australian publisher. So apparently we need laws to protect Gleitzman’s royalties from himself?

The theme of lost profits in Australia is common. But let’s take the argument further. Suppose that I publish a book and it does well in Melbourne but not so well in Sydney. My publisher can support publishing the book so long as they can charge a price of $30 but they also publish in Sydney were the book can only fetch $15. What my publisher wants is the ability to prevent books coming across the NSW/Victoria border but the nasty government wont give them that “support.”

Well, they could (a) not sell in Sydney; (b) not discount wholesale to Sydney; (c) not ship as many books to Sydney; all of which would preserve Melbourne profits. But they don’t. Why? Because even facing some competition between cities, they do better. Seen in this light, publishers are gunning for more profits.

And we can see the effect. My book, Parentonomics, retails in Australia for around $30 ($27 if you find a cheaper bookstore). But around the world, you can get it for as low as $23.87. So Austalians are paying 15-20 percent more for books published by Australian authors (and others too). It might cost me but I would happily forgo royalties to see cheaper books across the line in Australia.


11 Responses to Allow parallel importing

  1. DLutchy says:

    I think Publishers need to be more flexible and stop trying to think the old fashioned way to make profits. I know of an Author who made the New York best seller list after he gave away his book for free as an audio podcast before publishing.

    The publisher did take a risk however the author already had a large following from his audio podcast.

  2. JH says:

    Does anybody know what effect parallel importing has had in New Zealand? I think the NZ author’s society has given a submission to the Productivity Commission arguing against its intro to Australia.

  3. JH says:

    Apostrophe in the wrong spot…presuming there is more than one NZ author.

  4. Mike says:

    There are some interesting arguments about price differentials presented on pages 4 and 5 of Henry Rosenbloom’s submission to the Productivity Commission, available here.

  5. Elissa says:

    It’s misleading to claim your book can be bought for $23.87 internationally. This price excludes postage and handling which must be paid on purchases from international on-line bookstores. The true price is $36.76 – well above what a typical consumer would pay in an Australian bookstore.

  6. Tom says:

    It seems to be the same old arguments that were trotted out by the music industry years ago, that artists will suffer if we allow parallel imports – i.e. Australian music will disappear, we’ll lose our Barnesy, Farnesy and Oilz etc. It is mostly rent-seeking by publishers/record companies who have everything to gain from government endorsed protectionism – and the bizarre thing is it is (as JG says) protection from themselves!

    Bundling them with other IP rights is dodgy. I question the extent to which the incremental (private) benefit of government enforced market segmentation (to enable price discrimination, extraction of higher profits than uniform pricing) is likely to translate to much more creative activity (or incentives to write/compose another ‘Sweet about me’). It is not like they will be forced to give it away for free – it has nothing to do with piracy (although some would like to confuse these in issues in the debate) – hence we’re only talking ‘incremental’ benefit of banning parallel imports (even assuming it all goes to the creator of the work not just their distributor). The cost of course is that the whole of the Australian public pays more for the same – happy in the knowledge that we are helping maintain a dying business model for years to come. Lead the way John Butler!

  7. Joshua Gans says:


    It isn’t misleading at all. People in the US pay less for my book, end of story. And yes the Australian publishers can get away with charging more because of the tyranny of distance.

    Are you seriously extending the same logic all the way down the line? Forget my book, what about school books for children? Should the US have an advantage?

  8. Would you hate me if I said that in my case Parentonomics was even cheaper ‘cos I have borrowed it from my Library? It’s due back next week.

  9. Joshua Gans says:

    Nope. Glad you have read it. Shame Australian libraries had to pay more for it than US ones.

  10. I read Peter Carey’s plea in the AGE the other day. Now I consider my self to be a reasonably sophisticated reader but I just didn’t understand about half of what he was saying. Those bits I did understand about protecting the current system I didn’t agree with. Not to mention I found it a bit strange that a peson who has settled in New York for the last however many years needed to defend some Australian commercial set ups.
    From what I can gather the book industry,which seems to be largely multi national companies, has set up different nations or continents, in a way that enables them to charge for the same book different price points.
    Apparently although this is never made clear, but is implied by authors such as Gleitzman above, authors get a higher royalty for the same book “published” in Australia and a lower royalty if it is published in USA. Why I don’t know. I’d like to know if USA authors get the opposite – higher in USA and lower here or what. (I’d also like to know if Carey gets the AUS deal or the USA deal with his publisher.)

    There was a similar emotional outcry and handwaving when parrallel imports for music were allowed – end of Oz music industry etc – still waiting for the music to die….
    Cheaper books will benefit Oz authors – especially emerging ones. If I go to the bookstore in September and pay $42 for the new Ian Rankin novel I’m not likely to pick up the new first crime novel by an unknown Australian for $35. However if the Ian Rankin is $32 and the Oz crime $28 – I’m likely to grab both.
    As it is now I get at least half my books from either Amazon or Book Depository quicker and cheaper and more convenient than I can get them here. And I’m part of a growing trend.
    Last year I got the new James Lee Burke landed on my door in hardback cheaper than I could get the paper back here. I was able to order it two months in advance of release and I got the book two months before it arrived in Oz.
    Cheaper books here mean more books purchased adn more oz books purchased and more people in local bookshops and not online.

  11. […] readers know that I favour parallel importing of books into Australia because I want to encourage reading of them. The Productivity Commission […]

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