Posts Tagged ‘parallel import restrictions’

That PIR Thing Again – A New Twist

October 27, 2009

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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The PIR Debate and Saving Aussie Books

September 29, 2009

Following on from my previous post, you can chase up more stuff about the PIR debate in Australia here http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com/

The PIR Debate and the Dead Cat Poem

September 25, 2009

PIR. It stands for Parallel Import Restriction. The Dead Cat poem is another matter altogether.

PIR is used by the major English speaking nations to protect copyright in their own country. It means that a book published in that country has prime right to sales and the same book published in another country has to stay clear. The main users or PIRs on books are the UK, US, Canada, and Australia.

The effect of PIR is that if I write a book here in Australia, and it is published both here and in the US, the Australian booksellers can only sell the local version. US books are cheaper because of matters of scale – after all the US population is 300 million compared to 20 million for Australia. That makes the reader market fifteen times bigger, resulting in lower print costs.

Here in Australia the debate is hot and strong on whether the govt should scrap its PIR legislation. A coalition of three major retailers are for getting rid of it and are pushing the govt. Publishers and authors are against scrapping it.

The retailers say it will bring cheaper prices to the consumer because they will be able to sell cheaper US books instead of locally printed books. That’s an interesting comment from the ones who keep raising prices for groceries and petrol at the same time they are screwing down on the food suppliers and world oil prices are dropping. Last time I looked these companies were more concerned about a high share value than cheaper prices to consumers.

There is another factor in this debate. It’s about national identity. Australian authors write books on Australian life for the Australian market. Such books rarely sell into foreign markets without some serous revision. This is particularly true when it comes to the US market.

US spelling is different from Australian spelling. US idioms are different. US community norms are different. US life is different. And a book that makes sense in Australia will not carry well into the US. Most Australian books are changed for the American market. They suffer changes to spelling, to place names, to character names, to ethnic identities, to social mores, to plot themes, to behaviours regarding politeness, and such.

It is ironic that the country that floods the world with violent movies will clamp down on children’s picture books such that some publishers do not allow pictures of fathers kissing their children.

Oh yeah, just a reminder – I haven’t forgotten about the Dead Cat Poem. Be patient.

Jacki French is an iconic Australian children’s author. She has a wonderful book called The Diary of a Wombat. When it was taken to the US they wanted to change the wombat to an American animal. Jackie refused to allow it. They wanted to change the language so the wombat didn’t ‘demand’ carrots at the farmhouse door but politely asked for them, just as American kids should be trained to do. Jackie refused. Other editing scrubs were sought, Jackie refused them all. She stood her ground. The book became a hit in the US as it was in Australia.

Now imagine that those changes had been made. And an Australian bookseller had the choice of selling the local version or the US version. Suddenly there is an iconic Australian childrens book that has no bearing on Australian life at all.

Before we go to the Dead Cat poem, whatever that’s about, just one more thing. Peter Macinnis is an Australian science writer. When one of his books was transmogrified for the US market his reference to ‘the US Civil War’ was changed to ‘the Civil War’ – after all, everyone knows there was only ever one of those, don’t they? And his references to Paris were changed to ‘Paris, France.’ We wouldn’t want that one to get mixed up, would we?

And now we come to the Dead Cat Poem. But first we leave the US and head over to the UK.

Colin Thompson is an author / illustrator who was born in the UK but has lived in Australia for many years. He writes the most extraordinary children’s books. Chase up The Floods series. Chase up his delightful new picture book, Free To A Good Home. Chase up his books of wacky kids poems, mostly for grotty boys with titles like My Brother Drinks Out Of The Toilet, and The Dog’s Just Been Sick in the Honda. You can find those books here http://www.colinthompson.com/page18.htm

One of those books of poems has been published in the UK. But the publisher didn’t like some of the poems. They were dangerous and might make little English children cry. So they published the book but left out five poems. One of those poems is about a dead cat. Not just any old dead cat. A dead cat that has been run over. Oh yeah, there are two dead cat poems. The other cat went to sleep in the washing machine. You can find those poems on Colin’s website. He pretty pissed off about them being left out of the UK book. Chase them up here http://www.colinthompson.com/page19.htm

I’ve read lots of Colin’s poems. I think they are funny. I wish he was writing that stuff when I was a ten year old. They are mad, weird, and wacky. They make ten year old boys laugh out loud in class as they read them under their desk. Those boys get sent to the principal. He reads the books and laughs, but he has to obey the teacher and punish the boys. So he makes those boys stand in the corridor where they can read the poems and laugh in peace. Boys line the corridor outside the principals office every day. They go home in the afternoon and Dad says, “How was school today?” Those boys will say, “Wicked!” Dad will say, “They must have improved it since my day.”

That won’t happen in any UK or US school, I know it. But if I was principal of a school here in Australia that is exactly how I would handle it.

You know what I want to do? I want to write a book of poems for ten year old boys called, Poems About Snot and Other Stuff. It won’t sell in the US will it? I can tell that from here.

Anyway, this is a post about Parallel Import Restrictions. Keep them running! That’s what I say. Keep ‘em running hot and strong. This is the only country in the world where life makes sense. Let’s keep it that way.