“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero
I am certain that I’m not the only one who has felt a slight tremor upon seeing the prices of my prescribed textbooks. I am certain that I’m not the only one who has decided against buying the latest release because of its exorbitant price tag. I am confident that I’m not the only one who wishes that the cost of books, driven up by unhealthy regulation and protectionism, are reduced.
Parallel import restrictions (PIRs) are set of provisions in the Copyright Act 1968 that prohibit booksellers importing for resale if an Australian publisher acquires exclusive rights for the publication and it is published within 30 days of overseas publication. Booksellers can only import the title if it is unavailable at the local publisher for a minimum of 90 days.
Disguised as IP protection, these restrictions are simply trade barriers which create an oligopoly of local publishers. PIRs are the physical equivalent of geo-blocking. By significantly restricting supply and receiving protection from foreign publishers, local publishers have the freedom to raise prices of books — which, according to the Productivity Commission, are on average 30 and 35 per cent higher than the United Kingdom and the United States respectively. PIRs pose a severe handicap for booksellers as consumers can purchase from international online retailers who not covered under these restrictions and hence tend to offer lower prices than the local brick-and-mortar bookstore.
Books spread knowledge, preserve culture and are the foundation for an enlightened society. All this in addition to functional attributes they possess such as enhancing communication skills and improving literacy. A fundamental economic principle is that an increase in price leads to a decrease in demand — PIRs increase the price of books and consequently, decrease the demand for them in addition to the steady decline in readership itself.
What authors such as Tom Keneally, Tim Winton and Richard Flanagan fail to realise when they make their claims that abolishing PIRs will lead to the death of the Australian literary tradition, is that these restrictions only benefit publishers, several of whom are subsidiaries of multinational publishing companies, and not any other stakeholder in the food chain — author, bookseller, or reader. The reader would benefit from lower prices and a larger offering; the bookseller would benefit from lower costs in their fight against online retailers such as Amazon and the author would benefit from increased royalties due to increase in sales.
Abolishing parallel import restrictions would not be a “neoliberal policy in favour of big businesses” as several of those against the move claim. Rather, it would be a policy that helps the local library stock more books, fosters student access to their prescribed textbooks, helps a child get his or her first encyclopaedia and helps me get my hands on the latest political or historical non-fiction title.
Parallel import restrictions are unhealthy, unfair and unwanted. They therefore, must be abolished.
Amogh Chakravarthy is a Politics and Public Policy student at Deakin University
This piece originally appeared in LibLeader