Many of the round-two submissions to the Productivity Commission smack of exasperation at the Commission’s seeming inability to engage with all the issues, particularly cultural value, lack of hard evidence for cheaper book prices, and detriment to authors. I’ve only read the summary of the draft discussion paper, and I felt my brain sliding off paragraphs into deep holes more times than I could count. But let’s see what other people had to say.
The vast majority of Australian authors cannot afford to write full-time; most of those who choose to do so already live on marginal incomes. As local royalties are orders of magnitude greater than export royalties – and authors receive no royalties for remainders – it seems crucial to acknowledge that the Commission’s recommendations, if enacted, would unquestionably reduce the income stream of Australian authors – an income stream already significantly lower than average. This will have the effect, as the Report also concedes at various points, of reducing the size and activity of the Australian publishing industry. No Australian writer will be immune: some may stop writing (while others are dissuaded from starting), some may find that the embattled local industry is unable or unwilling to publish their work, some may tailor their work and efforts toward overseas publishers. The follow-on effects to the literary and artistic culture at large are degenerative and obvious – the Report concedes all this as well.
Frustration from the Australian Booksellers Association:
There is a frustration felt by many of us involved in this debate that a reductionist approach has been taken in evaluating the economic benefits of culture and what structures should be in place to support those benefits. The difficulty in extracting what is cultural output from the more commercial aspects of the book industry, given the depth to which these two factors intermingle, should not lessen estimations of the cultural value of the industry.
Exasperation from Henry Rosenbloom:
What is worse, the draft report doesn’t face up to the fact that the case for the prosecution has collapsed. Of the two grounds for the inquiry — supposed problems with the ready availability and the prices of overseas-originated titles — the draft report effectively abandons the first charge.
Of the second charge, after labouring mightily, the commission has produced a mouse: it demonstrates that local book prices are competitive at the average $US–$Australian exchange rate of the past decade. Neither the supposed killer example of New Zealand’s experience after it abandoned parallel-import restrictions, nor the distortions of the Dymocks-led ‘Coalition for Cheaper Books’ turn out to be persuasive. The commission has been forced to recognise that there is no supporting evidence for the second charge, either.
Lest you think unease about the Commission’s approach is purely an industry shibboleth:
The NSW Government notes the Productivity Commission’s comments regarding the insufficiency of data necessary to accurately describe and analyse the market. The considerable uncertainty regarding the magnitude of any actual price effects caused by Australia’s parallel importing restrictions, highlighted by the Commission, and its failure to identify clear benefits that would result from implementing the draft recommendations do not provide a sound basis for changing the present well-functioning environment. The NSW Government considers that without a greater understanding of the market and potential impact on the cultural, social and educational benefits of the existing arrangements, the Draft recommendations risk undermining industry activity and the resulting economic and cultural benefits to the community, such impacts may not be reversible.
The suggested reduction to a 12-month protection period isn’t welcomed by economists on the other side of the debate, either. See Joshua Gans’ submission:
The economics overwhelmingly justify the removal of parallel import restrictions on books. Partial restrictions the form proposed by the PC only serve to continue to harm consumers with little to no support for Australian publishers and authors. Given the relatively small share of Australian-authored sales, it would be better to opt deregulation and leave it to cultural policy to address whether to support Australian authorship or not.
As the French would have it: ‘Bof.’