I’d like to be able to join the chorus of outrage about the Productivity Commision’s report on copyright restrictions on parallel importation of books.
Actually, I don’t really want to, but I feel bad that I don’t, because all the people complaining about it are the people I think of as being on my side of the argument about most things. But the arguments against dropping the import restrictions seem to me to be very “we’ll all be rooned, said Hanrahan”, with a nasty dose of snobbery thrown in. (People sneering at supermarket novels, etc, but isn’t one of the supposed benefits of PIR that supermarket readers are cross-subsidising more worthwhile things, so where do you get off sneering at them.)
Since this seems to be an argumentative week around here anyway, convince me.
Several of my close friends and many of my acquaintances are published Australian authors. If you ask me, the current system has rewarded none of them anywhere near enough for their labours. Dropping parallel importation might make it worse, but I honestly would like to know how much worse it could get when being an author is very often de facto unpaid work anyway.
As far as I’m aware, the parallel importation restrictions have their origins in an attempt to protect British publishers, not Australian writers or readers. That the Australian publishing industry has gotten used to the protection they afford doesn’t necessarily make them a good way to subsidise the arts. And it’s also still subsidising British publishers, for no good reason that I can see.
Books have got steadily more expensive, out of line with inflation, over my lifetime: as a teenager I used to buy new books every week. As an adult, I buy new books for presents, and very occasionally buy them for myself. I earn quite a bit more money now than I did then. I don’t think a market where new books are luxury items is a sign of a healthy literary culture.
Parallel importation already exists: it’s called Amazon.