Books

Parallel Lines

For what sounds to most like an extraordinarily arcane issue, parallel importation of books is generating a lot of concern among Australian authors. In fact, many of them are being driven to rhetorical heights unscaled in their regular work.

In submissions to the Productivity Commission review, Kate Grenville warns about becoming an “impoverished and stunted society” and Gary Disher forecasts a loss of local flavour to “cheap mass culture from overseas”. Matthew Reilly’s heavily underlined and italicised submission warns that parallel importation is “tantamount to legalising copyright piracy”.

What is it that has made them so worried? What is parallel importation?

Like many English-speaking countries, Australia has copyright rules that protect the local publishing industry from cheap overseas editions. Essentially, publishers have 30 days following international publication of a book to release a local edition, after which that edition is the only version to be sold in Australia.

There are moves afoot to remove this rule, allowing importation of books from anywhere in the world -- the philosophy being that people do it via Amazon anyway and in theory it would make books cheaper.

On the other side of the debate, local authors are concerned that this will make Australian books uncompetitive price-wise with overseas works, that it will relegate local publishers to mere importers and that their books will be swamped in the market by remaindered foreign editions for which they receive no royalties.

In reality, both the promise of lower prices and the threat of local industry collapse are likely to be overstated. Australia allowed parallel importation of CDs ten years ago and while this has led to some discounting, most new CDs are still in the range of $25-$30 (US$17-$20). Regarding the feared consequences, Australian music is just as successful as in the 1990s, if not more so. The rise of labels like Modular, with their global-impact roster of artists such as Cut Copy, shows how little difference the end of protectionism has had.

Making a living as an Australian writer is hard and maybe it’s about to get harder. Perhaps the protection of the local sector has fostered any number of brilliant authors who might otherwise have given up their career for something more lucrative. But as with too many public debates, the argument is verging on shrill.

The track record of protected cultural industries is not good. Australia’s film industry had a taxpayer-funded golden age in the late '70s and early '80s, but over time fell into a rut of making mediocre films perpetuating the same national stereotypes. Much our subsidised arts scene is irrelevant to average, or even culturally-savvy, Australians. Australian music is in a healthy state, but this is hardly the result of years of mandatory Australian content on the radio stations that simply pick local imitators of mainstream US acts.

The fact is that there will always be a market for good books and good writers. For generations, Australian writers have struggled with the small size of the local market, the need to connect with overseas audiences and the frequent necessity of moving overseas to chase success. Yet authors keep coming along, telling stories people want to read and making a living (or at least a part-time wage). To attribute all this to a single element of copyright law is simplistic.

There may be no need to fix something that isn't broken, but I suspect that any change won't stop Australia from giving the world exceptional writers.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.