I’ve seen so many posts about saving Australian Literature (see here) and it’s really amazing that so many people, even those who aren’t Australian, care about this issue.
With so many people coming out to support the Australian publishers, I hope that the government realises that it should not pass these new laws that would significantly harm authors (Australian publishers are doing enough to harm themselves without anyone’s help), but I want Australian publishers to stay in business, because I want authors to be able to make a decent living off their books, and I want all the lovely people I’ve dealt with from Australian publishers to keep their jobs and keep doing great things. I do buy a lot of books from Australia, Dymock is my happy place, and my Dymocks Gold loyalty card will attest to the fact that I do buy a lot of books in the country. But I buy far more from overseas.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news and I would love Australia to have a thriving publishing industry, but sometimes Australian publishers make it really hard to stay loyal and not buy books overseas.
REALLY, REALLY HARD.
Books here are incredibly expensive, around $30 for a paperback and $45 for a hardcover (if you can even get things in hardcover.) Very few books are released in hardcover here and this is the number one reason why I buy most of my books overseas. I prefer to buy hardcovers and Australian publishers are not supplying me with what I want, so I need to get it somewhere else. Why should I buy something that isn’t really what I want, because it benefits someone else more, and then also pay more for it? I’d have to be a fucking idiot to do that all the time.
But issues with the Australian publishing industry extend beyond just not supplying us with hardcovers. Availability is also an issue across the board, especially of ebooks. Many ebooks are not available here, and when a hardcover from overseas is cheaper than the Australian ebook, it’s easy to see why this industry is failing. How is a digital copy more expensive than a physical copy? I don’t see how they can justify that in any way. There may be an answer to this, but I have never seen a satisfactory one. All the answers I’ve seen to this question have honestly bordered on ludicrous. The other day I saw a YA ebook on an Australian site for $27. $27 for an ebook is prohibitively expensive (which I know is the idea).
The struggles of the Australian publishers, are actually partially on them for failing the Australian reading public; for treating us like cash cows for so long. And throwing a hissy fit when we realise we can get something better elsewhere for cheaper, isn’t really fair. Can you really blame us? I don’t think so. Maybe you can’t really blame the Australian public too much for abandoning you for greener pastures overseas.
Why is what I want to spend my money on, as a consumer, the least important thing in this equation? Publishers and authors matter, but readers matter too. It is our money on which this industry is built, and we shouldn’t just be expected to suck it up and pay more because publishers don’t want to change.
There are a lot of businesses out there that are willing to give us what we want and far more reasonable prices. It is survival of the fittest out there. But survival of the fittest does not mean that the strongest survive. It means that those most likely to survive are those capable of adaptive to change (trust me, I’m a biologist). So it’s time to adapt, and I believe you can do it, and come out better off in the long run.
So here is what I propose: Make it easier for us to support you. Don’t just demand we pay more for books to keep you afloat. Lets face facts here for a second, we don’t actually NEED you. It might sound harsh but it is the truth; we can get our books overseas for less money (and often in pretty hardcovers). But the fact is that you NEED us. You cannot survive without our support, so maybe rather than screeching that we’re killing you by doing what is essentially in our best interest (saving us money), maybe it’s time to remind us that we need you alive. You need to make buying books from you a better choice than buying them overseas. You need to meet us halfway. We cant be expected to be the ones to make all the sacrifices to save you.
Halfway is all I ask. I’m not asking you to supply all books and the same price as overseas and you may not be able to supply books in hardcover. I will have to learn to accept that. But something has to change. Because I can really care, and I can buy all my books in Australia, but I can’t save you alone. And getting large groups of people to go against what they consider their best interests (saving money) isn’t easy (unless you’re a politician apparently). So it may be really hard. You may need to be creative and think outside of the box about how you can meet us halfway, but I don’t believe that this is something that cant be accomplished.
At the moment, the price difference (and the availability of hardcovers) between Australia and overseas is too large to make buying domestic seem like the better option. Buying domestic has one very significant bonus, getting books quicker. Why wouldn’t we always want our books quicker? Because the price difference is more valuable to us that the reduced time we would have to wait for them. We can probably buy several books overseas for the price of one here. So more books trumps faster books. So maybe by just reducing prices a little bit, the price becomes less valuable and were more likely to choose having them quicker over paying less.
If you do not change your pricing, keeping these laws will not save you. It’s as simple as that. If you fail to be competitive in the marketplace the parallel import laws will be completely irrelevant to your survival as a business.
Maybe making books just a little bit cheaper here will actually lead to people buying far book domestically, and actually make you more money for publishers in the long run? The more you sell of things, the cheaper you can make them right? I don’t know. I’m not a business person, but I know that when I walk into a bookshop, I’m far more likely to buy two books for $20 each (even if I’ve seen them for $15 each online), than one book for $30. So in that scenario, with cheaper books, the bookstore ends up with $40 rather than $0. That price reduction made the choice to buy something in Australia for $20 more appealing than buying it for $15 from overseas.
And it’s the same with ebooks. I will buy practically any ebook I’ve ever even thought about reading if I see it for $5 (yeah… I’m weak okay!), but I have to REALLY want it to spend over $14 on it. And if you think making it so expensive will just make me go out and buy a physical copy, you would be WRONG. I see what you’re doing, and I don’t like being manipulated. I simply wont read that book and you lose. (NOTE: THE OFTEN-RIDICULOUS PRICE OF EBOOKS IS NO EXCUSE TO PIRATE THEM. PIRACY IS NOT A VICTIMLESS CRIME, But it is a topic for another day, and not why we’re here).
But like I said, I’m not a business person, and things are probably more complicated than that. But making the price difference between ‘the right choice’ and ‘the wrong choice’ less of an issue, making the right choice is a lot easier. I know not changing anything and hoping that people will just decide to do the right thing is a losing battle, especially when they may see no immediate benefit for themselves. People aren’t always going to put the interest of strangers over their own, and companies, including publishers, just expecting consumers to do so isn’t really going to win them any favour either. Especially if there’s no give and take.
But, despite their faults, I still want Australia to have a thriving publishing industry. I signed the petition, shared the information, and I hope these laws are stopped. I really, really do. Even if it means more expensive books. I hope we continue to have a publishing industry. I just hope it’s one that doesn’t take Australian readers for granted.
So, if we do everything we can to stop these new laws and give you a chance, I hope you take that chance and use it to improve the Australian publishing industry for EVERYONE. Including readers. Because Australian readers want the Australian publishing industry to survive. But there really is only so much that we can do for you. Stopping these laws probably wont be enough to save this industry under the current circumstances. It will only stop parallel imports. It wont stop Australian consumers buying their books overseas. But it is a start, and I hope the publishing industry in this country gets that start. And I hope they use it to better publishing in Australia for everyone.
So in a nutshell for those who didn’t want to read my massive ramblings: If Australian publishers don’t learn to play fair and run a competitive business, these laws wont make a bit of difference, because they will fail anyway. Basically, if publishers were being competitive with their pricing, changing these laws wouldn’t be a threat to them. But the fact is that they blatantly overcharge for books, and would rather be legally protected to do so rather than actually compete in the market like everyone else. But I’d like to give them the opportunity to fix things before changing parallel import laws, and find a solution that is more beneficial to everyone, because supporting Australian publishers will support Australian authors.