To the dismay of many publishers, authors and writers, the Turnbull government is proposing to lift the restriction on parallel importation of books.
The current situation
An Australian publisher has two weeks to supply new-release titles to booksellers (bookstores and department stores like Big W). After two weeks the bookseller can purchase from overseas publishers/suppliers.
If the restriction is lifted, the two-week leeway period will be removed and booksellers will be able to buy popular new release titles from whomever they choose.
From a business perspective it is logical to assume that booksellers will buy the cheaper US versions of a book instead of the local, more expensive Australian version.
You may be thinking, ‘But if a book is only published in Australia, and there isn’t a cheaper US version, then there’s no problem, right?’
Yes and no.
It may only be the big name authors who have their titles published overseas but it’s the flow-on effect that most are concerned about.
The theory goes like this –
- The bookseller buys the US version of an Australian book
- Aussie publisher misses out on sales & suffers ongoing loss of income
- They then reduce the number of authors and titles
- Worse case scenario is they can no longer compete and close down
Which means a loss of jobs for publishers, editors, authors, agents, book cover designers, and anyone who relies on the Australian publishing industry for income.
And it gets worse –
- Australian stores will be flooded with US books
- Our Aussie vernacular will be replaced with American spelling and terminology
- Our kids won’t be reading Australian English
- Tomato sauce becomes ketchup, holiday becomes vacation, taps become faucets and mums become moms
Try explaining to your child why they’re reading ‘color’ or ‘flavor’ in a book yet we teach them to spell ‘colour’ and ‘flavour’ at school. The English language is complicated enough to learn without having to add another country’s spelling and vernacular to the challenge.
Concerns of the Australian publishing industry are not without validity. New Zealand lifted their restrictions in 1998 and the consequences are evident by the decreased range of books available by New Zealand publishers and the drop in sales figures.
This isn’t the first time the government has tried to implement unrestricted parallel importation of books and hopefully they will see the light and shove the idea back in the dark cave of ignorance where it belongs.
For a more detailed backstory on the parallel importation saga, and views and opinions from other industry professionals, check out