In Australia, we have a system whereby if a local publisher acquires the rights to a book and publishes an Australian edition, distributors are barred from selling overseas editions, except as remainders or as second hand books.
This is supposed to protect the local publishing industry and (hopefully) provide a platform for Australian authors to get published by ensuring we maintain a local publishing industry.
Protectionism with utterly laudable aims, but in practice completely broken. Ebooks are outside of this meaning that they are significantly cheaper.
More significantly the rise of global suppliers has led to the lunacy by which I can purchase an Australian book by an Australian author, printed in Australia, from the UK for 25% less than the ‘special online price’ from the publishers own website.
Such a differential defies all logic – how can it be possible for a UK book distributor to import books from Australia, warehouse them, and sell them to BookDepository, who then mail them to customers in Australia for 25% less than for the publisher to sell them direct.
It’s more than different tax regimes allowing a modest variation in the sticker price it’s 25%.
Second hand books are another case in point.
While we may not like the rise of these big second hand book barns that stock everything, and yearn for the days of little specialist second had booksellers, we’ve all got to admit that second hand book barns are convenient and useful
They’re also cheap. Which leads to another puzzle. I buy a lot of history and classics paperbacks, the history being mostly nineteenth and early twentieth century history. Usually these books cost a couple of dollars at most through AbeBooks and invariably come from these large second hand operations in the UK (and occasionally the USA). Never Australia.
While we know that Australia Post charges over the odds to send packages – about nine bucks for a paperback book, that’s not so different to the international postage charges from the UK or Ireland, yet Australian second hand book sellers either havn’t the scale or the stock and are simply not competitive pricewise.
Now people are not stupid. If I can work this out, other people can which will mean that
- other people will also be buying direct from overseas
- the grey import ban will simply collapse
- Australian publishers will lose any financial benefit from being able to publish local editions of popular books
- Australian authors will lose a local publication platform
and of course, the second hand market will cease to be in any way profitable.
I don’t have an answer, except to say that we can’t continue as we are. Globalisation has done for that, just as it did for the car industry.
A mix of electronic publication plus a bit of print on demand might do it, but then we have to contend with Amazon’s stranglehold on the ebook market.
As I said, I have no answer, but we do need a platform for Australian writing that is sustainable that allows us to tell ourselves stories about ourselves and how we live on this big dry red continent …