Our battle to improve the environment for e-commerce often pits NetChoice against the ingrained interests of traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers. Fighting restrictions against the parallel imports of books is just another chapter in a longer tale, but this time there’s common cause between traditional and online retailers.
Parallel imports allow foreign versions of books to be sold locally, which drives prices down and offers more interesting alternatives to choose from.
The bad news is that parallel imports are regulated in many places, including Australia. Good news is the Australian government is currently reviewing its regulations on parallel imports of books.
Currently in Australia, parallel imports are restricted if a book is produced in Australia within 30 days of its first publication anywhere in the world. If Australian publishers meet this deadline, then booksellers are obliged to purchase the book from the Australian publisher. They may not import and sell foreign-published versions of the book.
Those favoring a repeal of current regulations, and for an open market, include the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Booksellers’ Association.
Those against a potential repeal include the Australian Publishers Association (surprise) and the Australian Society of Authors. They argue that the book industry in Australia is thriving under current laws, and has fostered the rise of world-class Australian writers. A repeal of the current restrictions would expose Australian publishers to competition from foreign publishers, and they’re not too keen about that. Australia’s publishers also claim that foreign versions of books are strange and different since they were modified to serve foreign markets.
My response to the publishers’ pique is a skeptically-raised eyebrow. How would an open market would result in lower-quality Australian works? Would publishers stop buying rights to overseas titles, as claimed by opponents to an open market? Aren’t Australian readers in the best position to decide whether they want to read foreign-published editions?
The Australian publishing industry is worried about competition prevention, not about protection of Australia’s writers and readers. Booksellers, online and otherwise, should be able to import books from any source to ensure that the consumer benefits from lower prices and a wider variety of available titles.
It’s time for online and offline booksellers to bind together and throw the book at the protectionist publishers of Australia.