You’ve missed the point. Again.

First, some facts…

Sue Grafton’s V is for Vengeance was released in the US last Monday.

I want to read it.

I can buy the hard cover from Amazon US.

I can buy the audio CD from Amazon US (though I cannot buy the audio download from Audible US)

I can buy the hard cover, the trade paperback or an audio CD from Book Depository in the UK or Amazon UK. Both of these sites offer free shipping to Australia.

…and an assumption…

Based on past, extensive (most of my books in the last 3 years have been bought from one or other of these stores) experience it would take a maximum of 10 days to arrive on my doorstep, usually around 6-7.

…one final, stupid fact…

I cannot buy the book in any format from any store in Australia at the time of writing (and it doesn’t appear as a pre-order on any book website I access regularly)

….and a guess

The book will cost $10-$15 more if I wait to buy it in an Australian store than the cheapest offering currently open to me ($19.19 from Book Depository with free shipping, Australian RRP for trade paperbacks is usually around the $33 mark).

What the BISG says about it all

In summary the Book Industry Strategy Group thinks this is all fine and dandy. Read on if you want a more detailed ‘analysis’ (i.e. mini rant).

The BISG had as its overall aim

to work with industry and government to develop a comprehensive strategy for securing Australia’s place in the emerging digital book market, while making the Australian book industry more efficient and globally competitive.

and it delivered its final report to the Australian Government last week.

Recommendation 4 of the report deals with Parallel Import Restrictions (PIRs) which were established as part of our copyright law in 1991 and which prevent the importation or selling of a book if there is a local holder of rights for the same book (in turn, the local rights holder must make the book available within 30 days of the book’s publication elsewhere). The aim of these restrictions was to level the playing field for local sellers (who face problems not of their making in the form of the ever-present tyranny of distance and a small population relative to other English-speaking markets) and to offer the best chance for works by local artists to thrive (I swear I have tried but I never did understand this part of the argument).

The BISG had quite a bit to say about the PIRs including a repetition of the Government’s 2009 finding on the issue, namely

The Productivity Commission found that the PIRs placed upward pressure on book prices, restricted commercial decisions for booksellers and were an ineffective mechanism for offsetting cultural externalities for Australian works;

and goes on to provide an update on the situation as it is now

…through its research and consultations the Book Industry Strategy Group notes that over the last two years, the Australian market has become more integrated with international markets. In 2010, Australian consumers purchased around 18 per cent of print books online, of which 53 per cent (or $150 million) was from an overseas online bookseller, thereby placing considerable pressure on Australian booksellers.

and admitted that the PIRs probably have the exact opposite of their intended effect

the 30/90 supply conditions of the PIRs no longer provide the same level of protection for the Australian industry as they did previously. As consumer expectations about price and availability increase, the PIR conditions may in fact advantage overseas suppliers and steer consumers away from books authored and produced in Australia. The emergence of online sales has created a buyers’ market and expecting consumers to wait 30 days to purchase a book that they can access immediately through overseas suppliers is no longer feasible.

And went so far as to state quite explicitly that

Consumers in Australia need access to print books and ebooks as soon as they are available in their market of origin and as soon as publishers can realistically get them to our markets. This is a change that recognises the impact that e-retailing and technological change is having on booksellers and publishing (highlighting my own)

But despite all of this the BISG does not recommend the immediate repeal of the PIRs and instead suggests

That the Australian book industry (authors, printers, publishers and booksellers) formalise an agreed, industry-wide code of practice that will reduce the timeframe for retention of territorial copyright from 30/90 days to 14/14 days without the need to amend existing legislation.

It’s enough to make a reader weep.

They’re saying they acknowledge PIRs don’t work, they acknowledge they’re hurting the industry, they acknowledge that over half of the books bought online by Australians are bought overseas (and we can guess this figure is growing) but they’re still not ready to give up the PIRs entirely.

In a strange way I think I’d have had a modicum of respect for them if they’d dug their heels in but this half-arsed recommendation proves they’re not a strategy group; they’re a bunch of insipid, fence-sitting, do-nothings unprepared to admit that the industry has been wrong about this issue since 1991.

There is, honestly, enough source material for an entire year’s worth of rants in the rest of the 108 page report but I’m not sure I have the energy.

For now I’ve got to go order a book from the UK.

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26 Responses to You’ve missed the point. Again.

  1. Bernadette – It’s ridiculous! Oh, not your rant, which is really not a rant; it’s a logical, clear outline of a very frustrating problem. As you say, that line of thinking is going to have the opposite of its intended effect. You’ve done a wonderful job of outlining the problem cogently. I don’t know if anything will be done, but while they fiddle around with this, readers will be going elsewhere for their books. Who wouldn’t?

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  2. Sarah says:

    I went to Sydney for a friend’s wedding two years ago and popped into Dymocks. I could not believe the prices of books there – even home grown Aussie authors. I wanted to buy a history of the first fleet and I came away empty handed as everything was so expensive.

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    • in the BA (before Amazon) years I used to go visit my brother in the US and take a suitcase full of Aussie treats (vegemite, tim tams, twisties) and bring home a case of books…for years I never bought a single book here in Oz for that very reason. Now I am a bit more financially secure I can afford to do what I think is essenitally a charitable donation and I do buy some books locally, but this is subsidised by my being able to buy books from Book Depository too

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  3. 😦

    Sometimes I think Denmark is far out, but I can see we can´t win the competition.

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  4. I spent a summer in Australia and was surprised that the bookstore closest to my apartment was so poorly stocked. I thought it must have been just that store . . . no idea it was such a huge problem. How frustrating!

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    • It used to be more frustrating when we didn’t have access to amazon, book depository etc. Now readers have options but local booksellers do not which in turn makes it difficult for them to attract shoppers, especially avid readers like me

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  5. Andrew Nette says:

    The best explanation of why PIR do not work that I have read.
    Thanks,
    Andrew

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  6. Another amazingly insightful post into the ridiculous laws we have here. There is a claim to support local bookstores and stop buying overseas if we want to have an actual market presence locally but they don’t actually make it EASY for the true book lover. There are people out there who don’t mind that they can’t get a book the day it is released elsewhere in the world but for dedicated readers and fans of authors/series/etc it does matter. And so often it’s far quicker (and also cheaper) to rely on buying internationally than waiting for the local stores to get the stock out. I’m not good at waiting! If I can buy it elsewhere earlier, I probably will, that’s even before I factor in the price differences.

    It’s hard to encourage people to change their new spending habits if they’re not concerned with REALLY changing the laws that govern the selling of books here.

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  7. Kat says:

    I have some sympathy for the PIR, but I find its execution mind-boggling. I think 7/7 is a much better time frame from a reader’s perspective and is competitive with delivery times from overseas retailers. I also dislike when mass market US books are released locally in C format, which I basically think exploits local readers.

    But for me, it’s not the readers who are disadvantaged by PIR. At any time we’re allowed to make a special order for an international edition, which then allows local booksellers to import the book.

    The biggest disadvantage is to local booksellers who: a) can’t import books under PIR without a customer order; b) may be forced to stock more expensive local versions rather than cheaper imports of the same title; and c) can’t take advantage of volume discounts because each import requires a special order OR can’t deliver the imports to customers immediately because they’re waiting for a large enough order to make importing worth their while.

    I can say, though, that I’ve never NOT been able to buy a book locally at least within a week of its international release. The trick is to pre-order with a bookshop early enough, and if possible to pick a bookshop which is likely to receive numerous orders for the same book (e.g. I have standing orders for sff books at an sff bookshop). It’s just harder to impulse buy a new release in-store.

    Finally, I’m not sure when you drafted this post, but as of today a quick search on Booktopia and Fishpond show your book as either available now or for pre-order.

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    • I do agree that it’s the booksellers who suffer, certainly in the last 5 years or so as online retailing options have grown. As a reader the PIRs don’t affect me at all any longer as I buy what I want from overseas if I don’t fancy waiting.

      As for you being able to find what you want locally if you look hard enough you do make a good point about being able to make special orders though I have to say I have not done this in the years since I started buying my own books online. It just smacks of charity for me to pay a local bookshop an exhorbitant amount of money (most of which they will pass on to an overseas vendor) to place and order when I can do the same thing myself and save a fortune.

      I did do my searching for this book on the night before I posted this so thanks for the tip about the book being available for pre-order locally now (cheapest I can see is $4 more than the UK option plus $6.95 for shipping)

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      • Kat says:

        😀 Locally available AND cheaper than UK/US online might be asking for too much.

        Special orders are tricky. I don’t do it with Dymocks, for example, because they order in bulk (at least, last time I checked) so the wait could be up to 6 weeks or something equally ridiculous.

        With local bookshops, though, it can work out very well. Sometimes–not always, but sometimes–they’ll get the books in before the official release date. If there’s no Australian embargo, they might sell the standing orders early. If there’s an embargo, at least I get it on the day of release (and some sellers will be cheeky enough to thumb their nose at the US time difference). But those bookshops tend to be very cluey about their niche and pro-active about their special orders, so you do have to find a good one.

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    • I should add that I live in Adelaide…no specialist bookshops available in the genre I read most (crime fiction) and precious few bookshops in general…that’s not to say I can’t do special orders but I certainly don’t have an option to find a bookstore that is likely to be placing lots of orders for what I want to read, though the Grafton book might have been an exception as she is one of the more popular authors that I read.

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      • Kat says:

        Ah, that’s harder. My specialist bookshop is local, so I can pick my books up in person. No postage to add to the cost of purchase, which, yes, makes a significant difference.

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  8. Kaetrin says:

    @ Kat – could you explain “C format” to me? – I didn’t understand the reference and would like to educate myself

    I agree with Kat, I don’t think that PIR disadvantages readers all that much but it is a huge disadvantage to local booksellers. I don’t buy locally mostly. I buy from the Book Depository for paperbacks or else I buy ebooks and have instant access. I don’t generally buy ebooks from Australian sites as they are almost always ++$ than international sites. I feel sorry for the local booksellers who have to struggle against an overseas market which seems to have many advantages over them. However, as sorry as I feel, I don’t spend a lot of money (read, nearly nothing) in them. I’m not sure what the answer to the problem is but I don’t think the current system is working very well.

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  9. Kaetrin says:

    I love browsing in bookstores too, even though I don’t get much time to do it. I’m in Adelaide as well (*waves*) and there’s not that many of them around anymore. I used to spend hours in Borders and sometimes they had good specials which made it worthwhile to buy there, even though their romance section (which is what I read) was relatively small… 😦

    I’m a bit jealous of Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane which have dedicated romance bookstores. If I was local to one of those, I think I’d be tempted to spend more of my money there just to help them keep in business and for the joy of browsing and discussing the books I love with the bookseller who understands me. Sadly, there is no such bookstore in Adelaide. This is why I ❤ the Book Depository and ereaders. 🙂

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    • Poor us in Adelaide eh? There are specialist crime fiction stores in Melb and Syidney too…but here we’re a bit left out. We have Dillons at Norwood which has a few shelves of crime fiction (all expensive) and when I try to order things they look at me blankly 😦 No wonder I love my eReader too

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  10. Kathy D. says:

    It’s a crazy system, which in the long run probably hurts local bookstores’ business. They lose sales because of the high prices, yet they make more on the books they actually sell. At some point, one would think they are losing income.
    In the States, I had an annoying experience when months ago I wanted to order Indridasson’s book Outrage. I tried to order it from the Book Depository, which wrote me a message that the publisher (Random House, Canada) did not want it to sell to buyers in the U.S. (The Canadian border is 8 hours by train from my city!) It cost $30 (hardback) through Amazon U.S. And Amazon U.S.charges shipping, except on certain books. And it does charge U.S. residents sales tax.
    Finally, after I’d searched for it all over the Internet, I found it through Alibris for $18 plus $4 shipping. At that point, I got it as my library didn’t even have it on order. (And who can pass a new Indridasson book?)
    I say use Book Depository whenever possible.
    And I’d say better to use up energy reading and writing those stellar reviews than ranting about the PIR. It’s illogical and sounds counter-productive, but this is the current trend. Unless it’s shown that income is going down, they probably won’t change it.

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  11. Kathy D. says:

    I do try to support my local independent mystery bookstore when I can, but prices are higher than at Amazon or Book Depository or other online sellers. But I don’t want them to go out of business.

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    • That’s a tough one I agree Kathy, I do some shopping locally…mostly of Australian authors which aren’t readily available cheaply at BD or Amazon, but I have also found eBooks give more options for cheaper books…the Indridasson one you mentioned ended up being cheaper on Kindle, still not available here in Oz in any format as far as I know

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  12. Maxine says:

    Have come late to the discussion as I was not online yesterday, so just to say great post. It’s all very well spending masses of time coming up with a strategy that isn’t going to work because it misses out on some crucial aspect of what readers can/will do.
    In the UK for years we had these high prices, ie you paid for a book what it said on the cover, which from what you write seems to be about equivalent to what you are paying in Australia now. We still have to pay these prices for specialist books, textbooks and so on (even on Amazon!) as the market allows the bookseller to set these prices.
    When the national net book agreement (which kept prices high in the Uk) was abolished, this is when the chain bookstores came into their own and gleefully undercut the independents in popular fiction, because they could. Then someone invented the Internet and Amazon, which came along and undercut all the chain bookstores, because it could.

    This is not a direct comment on your post pe se, but just to point out that where there is a market, someone will exploit it – I can’t see how independent bookstores can compete on any level today, apart from in one or two special cases – but making rules such as the one you describe here is only going to drive more readers away from the Australian shops and into the hands of other sellers who will do what they can to get around any Aussie rules as they want to sell books not to obey some country’s restrictive policies.

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    • I suppose that was my point in the end Maxine…that none of the restrictions and regulations that governments put in place for issues like this…effectively one of competition…will work and they can often go so far as to work in the opposite way to what was intended. They’d be better off leaving the market to work itself out and could probably better spend their money on positive buy local campaigns (there is some evidence these work…or have done in the past) or (heaven forbid) reducing postage prices here (it really should not be true that it is cheaper for someone in England to post me something than for someone in Sydney to post me the same item).

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