One of my resolutions for this year was to buy less books but to ensure that the ones I do buy are bought locally. I’m honestly not sure that anyone wins out of this (certainly not the authors whose books I won’t be buying at all) but it is a genuine attempt to support the local book selling industry which I hope will survive at least as long as I do. Though at times I wonder if it wouldn’t be kinder to shut it all down immediately and put everyone out of their misery. Because the industry surely cannot survive when it is engaged in such lunacy as charging 3-4 times the price of the exact same edition of a book bought from America.
I listen to a lot of audio books and I buy all the ones I listen to (my library has a lousy selection and their brand new digital loan system is completely unusable anyway). I have been a member at Audible – a US based site – since 2008, paying on average $12AUD for each of the 100+ titles now in my library. I’d love to use a local alternative, especially now that Audible is owned by the behemoth that is Amazon, but I can’t. My choice is not between using Audible and using a local provider of a similar service for a slightly inflated cost. My choice is between using Audible and not listening to audio books at all.
Because in Australia audio books are ridiculously, prohibitively expensive and the few that are available are being sold by (and presumably to) people who live in 2004.
Here’s a comparison of the price and other features of the book I most recently listened to: DEATH DELIGHTS written by Gabrielle Lord, narrated by Francis Greenslade and published by Bolinda Audio in 2011.
They’re charging nearly four times as much for a product which is significantly inferior? What possible basis could there be to justify such bullshit (pardon my language)?
Thanks to Jon Page**, independent Sydney bookseller and current President of the Australian Booksellers Association, I have learned about some of the reasons for the disparity in pricing between Australia and other English-speaking markets. Indeed my gradual move back towards buying books locally is largely due to Jon convincing me of the need for people like me to do so and that it’s not all price gouging on behalf of ‘the industry’ as I have previously argued (here, here, here and here). For example our higher salaries and better working conditions contribute to the higher prices and it doesn’t seem fair of me to blame the book industry for a national reality (and one we should be striving to maintain).
But even with the best will and intention in the world I cannot believe that there are enough legitimate reasons for it to cost $27.16 more to sell me a book from within Australia than to sell me the exact same edition of the book via the US. For heaven’s sake Bolinda Audio has provided the edition to Audible to sell in a better format than they are offering locally. I have to wonder if they are, Mel Brooks-style, trying to go out of business without appearing to do so.
I have no industry statistics to back up this claim but when I first joined Audible its advertising claim was that it played host to over 50,000 titles and that number has doubled in the last five years so I believe audio books are a growth part of the publishing industry. Given the paucity of Australian books available in the format and the prohibitive cost of purchasing those few titles locally this has the potential to be yet another opportunity for local publishing which will go begging. Either the local industry is too stupid to do a modicum of research to find out what is an equitable ‘going rate’ for its products or it is banking on us, its customers, being that dumb. Either way it’s a losing strategy and one I refuse to support. Frankly if this is the best that the local industry can do then I might have to seriously re-think my charitable notions of doing my bit to keep them afloat. They don’t deserve it.
*my monthly membership is $22.95US which entitles me to 2 credits which in effect equals 2 books as only a very few enormous books cost 2 credits, I have never bought or wanted a book which costs more than one credit. That means each book costs just under $11.50US which at today’s exchange rate is about $10.89 and at the worst exchange rate we’ve had in the last five years saw me paying around $13.25 per book.
**Jon’s written some great articles including What Price a Book in Australia?, The difference is 16% and Repeating the same mistakes only on a bigger scale. He also tweets intelligently on book industry related topics from @pnbookseller