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29 August 2009 ·

No Parallel Importation of Books into Australia Petition

If you live in Australia you may have heard that the Government is considering lifting the restrictions on book stores importing Australian books, and books that are published in Australia, from overseas publishers. At present, Australia – like the USA, the UK and Canada (and I believe, most other countries) has a law that book stores should buy from Australian publishers if possible. Individuals can of course buy from or any other bookstore anywhere in the world.

However, the suggestion is that if the big book chains like Dymocks can source books more cheaply overseas, they should bring them in. It sounds very appealing – because how could we doubt that they would pass on that saving to the consumer?

(In fact, once you count in tax and the exchange rate,books aren’t always cheaper overseas; sometimes they’re more, and sometimes they’re cheaper because different sized and quality of books are being compared – but I’ll ignore that for the moment.)

Of course the books they’re sourcing won’t be Australian books: even if they started out as Australian books, they will come in with changes not just to spelling and words (torch to flashlight, sidewalk to footpath, etc) but sometimes – especially in children’s books – changes to content, so that humour or events that aren’t easily accessible to the English or American child are deleted or altered. For example, in my book Amanda’s Dinosaur, the line in the original Australian book is: ‘goannas and snakes, turtles and lizards.” The US edition deleted the goannas. That’s fine: it’s a book for very young children, and the goannas only appear in that line. It does break the rhythm, but an American five year old child has lost nothing by skipping the goannas. But I think it’s a real shame if Australian five year olds lose the opportunity to have one of their native animals mentioned in books.

Of course one of the other things that can happen is that if an Australian book is published overseas, and doesn’t sell as well as the publisher hoped, they may remainder the book: get rid of at a fraction of what it cost to produce, simply to get it out of the warehouse. (That’s when you see books at those wonderful huge warehouse sales: “Books at 90% off!” etc.) Of course the author isn’t paid for these book, and neither is the Australian publisher. Fair enough. And if a few thousand of these $1 books are dumped into Australia, obviously anyone in their right mind would buy those instead of the full price Australian edition. That means the Australian edition may quite likely also have to pulped or dumped too – but that’s just more bonus for the consumer.

Unfortunately it also means that the Australian publisher may go broke, or have to cut back so much they decide to simply import books from overseas publishers and not gamble their money on anyone except the most established, best selling Australian authors.

However the government has a solution for the fact that Australian authors will lose their incomes: tax payer funded grants. So there will still be some Australian authors, and a bureaucracy will decide who they are. Much more efficient than letting consumers decide. So even though many printers and publishers will lose their jobs, there’ll be a few more jobs for bureaucrats.

If you think Australia needs to maintain its own culture, and its own publishing industry, you can sign on online petition here.

No Parallel Importation of Books into Australia Petition

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio