Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Parallel Imports

Allan Fels and Fred Brenchley wrote a reply in response to people wanting to keep parallel imported books out of Australia.

(Wiki: Parallel importers ordinarily purchase products in one country at a price (P1) which is cheaper than the price at which they are sold in a second country (P2), import the products into the second country, and sell the products in that country at a price which is usually between P1 and P2.)

Peter Carey and others claim that parallel imports will destroy the domestic publishing market and thus prevent Australian authors from being published. Domestic publishers hold the copyright for overseas authors thus if you want to see those books in Australia they must be produced by domestic publishers. Non-parallel importing is therefore protectionism.

I am a wannabe writer. Reading is my number one past-time. I read widely. I give a lot of books as presents. I am university-educated middle-class fairly bohemian and pink. I should be on the battlements staving off parallel imports and supporting Australian publishing with my last breath.
I’m not.
I agree with Fels and Brenchley.
Carey et al are wrong.
Domestic publishers are lazy pricks who do not support Australian writers.

By saying that they can only be profitable by printing foreign authors under copyright the publishers are admitting THEY CAN’T SELL DOMESTIC AUTHORS!
Yet these are the only guys we are counting on to support said Australian authors?! Protecting them doesn’t make any sense.

The crowning argument of the anti-parallel people is this:
"But if Australian writers can't afford to go on writing (and Australian publishers can't afford to publish us) then there will be many fewer books reflecting our unique Australian experience."

This is fatuous on two counts.
a) If I wanted to read about The Australian Experience..... why would I read a novel?
Surely I would read about real people?
Like Robyn Davidson: a woman who walked across 1700km of desert with four camels. That was a cracking read. Entertaining, touching, transporting and inspiring.
Or I would read biographies of Diggers surviving the Bataan death march or fighting in Tobruk. Or I’d read straight history. 'Leviathan' by John Birmingham is a triumph of a writer being authentically Australian. Birmingham’s style is a product of his personality. His personality is in part due to being Australian.
If the reason for having The Australian Experience is to either Tell-us-who-we-are or to convey that experience to foreigners then convey the REAL experience. Don’t try and manufacture it.
Simply having a novel set in Australia doesn’t automatically make it more worthy. To claim otherwise is nationalism, and there is very little that is more stupid and childish than nationalism.

b) Australian authors will not stop writing: they will get a job and still keep on writing.
Y'know, like 99% of artists in all fields.
Fulltime writers tend to disappear up their own arseholes, anyway. There is a reason why your old stuff is better than your new stuff - you were mining your life experiences in the old stuff. Your new stuff is written when you have become a full-time writer and you simply aren’t that interesting any more. This applies equally to musicians.
'Oh listen: a song about being on tour!'
'Oh, look. A novel where the protagonist is a writer with writer’s block.'
Spare me.

Main rebuttal.

1) Books are simply too expensive. How much money do they think readers have? Are readers going to pay $35 for one book, or are they far happier to pay $35 for two books or even three if you use the Penguin model. The $9.95 Penguins are proof right there that Carey et al are wrong. Why are people buying these Penguins and not another print? Because the other print is $25 perhaps? These aren’t new books. They have been out for a while now, and if the people buying them *now* didn’t buy them *back then* there must be a reason for it. Join. The. Dots.
This is a no brainer.
I am not going to impulse buy with $20.
‘But it costs so much to print books in Australia….’
So don’t print them in Australia. Ta daa.

1b) I buy remaindered books from England for about $6-8 each. As a result I have read any number of books I would never have even looked at if they were $20 let alone $35.
Any number of my friends buy books from Amazon because they are cheaper than getting them here; they are unavailable here; they are actually in stock.
Aside from print-on-demand, it is hard to think of a more direct way to get a book.

2) If Aussie publishers are making foreign authored books then they aren’t making domestically written books. QED. Not only that, but it is cheaper to bring in the foreign print books than to print them here, so it doesn’t make economic sense to do so except for reasons of protectionism.
How much sympathy do you expect me to have for a publisher who makes only $6 instead of $10. That $4 difference is MY money.

3) Editors. Where are the editors? Editors are there to ensure the quality of writing. Since publishers became more hard-nosed they demoted editors to the point where the quality of writing has suffered. Do you know why books are bloated overly-long lumps of filler these days? It’s because they cut editors off at the knees. It was the editor’s job to reign in the author. It is very easy to see which books had good editors and which didn’t.
Where, then, is our ‘proud and needed’ Australian Experience?
If it isn’t of good quality, should we be proud of it? Should we treat it as the ambassador of the nation? Of course we shouldn’t!!! Why are we celebrating mediocrity?!?!
The obvious conclusion is that Publishers don’t care about quality. They should therefore not be protected.

4) Anyone who defends the publishers defends Matthew Reilly. Since he is indefensible, their position is untenable.

5) If they truly cared about finding Australian authors and The Australian Experience they would make an effort to market them.
How many one-off authors produce really good stuff? Lots. They say everyone has a book in them, and maybe many people only have the one. And maybe those books are short.
Better to have seven one-off's than seven Tim Wintons I feel. Particularly if you are wanting The Australian Experience. Does Tim Winton speak for the nation? Of course he doesn’t. He speaks for a microcosm. To speak for the nation you need many voices.
And that means many writers.
Publishing houses have stables of authors. What this means is that they have a set number of established authors whom they publish. They put their effort into keeping these authors rather than finding untested ones because it is easier. Obviously it is easier to feed an established market with a new Peter Carey book than with an unknown.
Publishers buy shelf space in bookshops. New release books are on these shelves for six weeks. After that time a few go to the shelves for older books and a new title fills the New Release shelves.
Publishing is a business. Do not protect business – demand more from it.

Publishers are betraying readers. They patently aren’t doing what their defenders claim they do.
Their argument is condescending in the extreme.
They are an adult saying “If you don’t do it my way, you will not get dessert” to a child.
Don’t fall for the idea that if the publishers go they will take Australian Literature with them.
It’s a load of crap.

1 comment:

Fyodor said...

Your journey to the DARK SIDE is now complete.

Darth Neoliberal, RISE.

P.S. "Main Rebuttal #4" very cogent. Almost as convincing as this: