That PIR Thing Again – A New Twist

We once had an Irish Setter. We had three of these wonderful dogs over many years and I suppose I could tell the following story about any of them, but I will choose one. Flash was the most recent. He was energetic, enthusiastic, enlivening, every else that starts with E.

Flash loved to wrestle. My son or I would get down on the floor and growl and he would get into position, hind-quarters up and forelegs and chin on the floor, eyes alive. We would make our move and grab him around the middle and he would try to lick us into submission, wriggling and twisting all the time to get free.

It was impossible to hold him for long as wriggling and twisting was his best thing. As soon as he was free he would get back into position for the next round. We tired out before he did.

There’s an irony in wanting to get into the wrestle, only to wriggle free. Can I leave the metaphor with you?

Don Grover is CEO of Dymocks Booksellers. John Forsyth is the Chairman of the family company that owns Dymocks. Dymocks is one of the members of a retail coalition that wants to get rid of territorial copyright on Australian books. The other members of the coalition are Coles and Woolworths. These other two are supermarket giants who between them own 80% of Australian grocery business. This is the highest concentration of grocery ownership in the world. They want to sell cheap books and they want to get rid of territorial copyright, saying this will make books cheaper.

Here’s a quick run through on what that means. English speaking countries have territorial right to publish and distribute books in their own place. UK, US, Canada, Australia. They respect the right of local publishers to distribute books on their patch without interference. Because each territory has differences in culture and language, books for each territory are edited to suit the differences, and those editions only sold in the appropriate territory. New Zealand gave up their PIRs some years ago and have paid the price for it since.

This is how it plays out in practice. An Australian author writes a book. It is taken up by a US publisher. The US publisher wants the Australian idiom changed to US norms. Elements of the story have to change. Cricket is changed to baseball, wombat is changed to opossum, Mum is changed to Mom, Dubbo is changed to Dallas, the main character no longer has freckles but has to have long golden hair to reflect the US desire that everything be beautiful. In other words, what was an Australian book has to be edited to reflect the US publisher’s marketing guidelines.

OK, those changes are made and the US edition goes on sale in the US. But the Australian version has territorial rights for sale in Australia, so the Australian reader gets the original. The US reader gets the Barbie and Ken version but not the Australian version. That is the idea behind Parallel Import Restrictions. Each country guards the right to publish for their own culture.

The proposal to lift PIRs in Australia would mean that the US version can be shipped into Australia and sold in competition with the local version. And with publishing costs cheaper in the US because of matters of scale and lower quality of paper and binding etc, the local version would not appear on the shelves. So the local publisher who has put the original and costly work into getting the book up and running can’t sell locally produced copies in the Australian market. And they can’t sell into the US or UK either, because those markets are closed to Australian sellers by the US and UK  PIR legislation.  Australian publishing business drops.

Dymocks, who want to see an end to PIR so they can sell cheaper US imports, recognise this. They recognise that those US versions will lessen the ability of Australian publishers to stay in business. They recognise that Australian authors will therefore find it more difficult to get published. After all, what US publisher is going to spend money on Australian authors, especially in developing new talent?

So Dymocks has a suggestion. They suggest that Australian publishers have a 1% levy applied to them by the Government. And that levy be used for ‘Australian writing grants’.

How about that? Dymocks, the retailer, recognises that removal of PIRs will hurt Australian writing and publishing. So to help prop it up they suggest a new tax on the ailing publishers. And out of that tax we give grants to Australian authors to write what they call ”culturally worthwhile books”.

Is it just me or can somebody else see a bit of wriggling and twisting happening here?

Are you up for a list of questions?

  • What does “culturally worthwhile books” mean?
  • Who decides what it means?
  • Who decides what authors get a grant?
  • Who decides how much that grant will be?
  • Once the author has written a “culturally worthwhile book” who publishes it?
  • Where does it get published?
  • If it is published in the US does it have to be edited into a US “culturally worthwhile book” so it’s marketable there?
  • If such a book was to be published by a US publisher and imported to Australia does that US publisher have to pay 1% of everything they publish into this grant fund?
  • How much of this grant levy goes into administration, and by what govt. department?
  • What if somebody was to suggest that 1% be levied on retailers and not publishers?
  • Would Dymocks support that?

I tell you, it was a lot more fun wrestling with Flash than trying to sort out the wriggling and twisting of this suggestion.

You can chase up a news report on the Dymocks suggestion here.
http://www.theage.com.au/national/dymocks-says-levy-could-fund-writers-20091026-hgr4.html

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