Australia’s literati think that we owe them a living. In the Weekend Australian today, author Michael Wilding complains that
Through the years Australian governments have consistently disadvantaged books and writers,
but what he really means is that Australian governments have become less inclined to advantage book publishers, sellers and writers, at the expense of readers and taxpayers.
Wilding’s criticisms aren’t even consistent. He starts by complaining that the GST made books more expensive, yet his very next complaint is about the abolition of retail price maintenance – which prevented booksellers from discounting to make books cheaper!
He says relaxation of copyright rules, so that booksellers could bring in foreign books not published by local copyright holders within 30 days, undermined the importation business he used to maintain his small Australian publishing firm. Unless he was being very inefficient I am not sure why. He could still overcharge provided he did it quickly.
The cutural protectionists want to own copyright in foreign works, both to generate direct profits from high prices and to make Australian books more price competitive (Wilding complains about printing costs in Australia compared to elsewhere).
On balance I am in favour of copyright law, but I am not convinced that the Australian government needs to protect a local copyright holder rather than the original copyright holder overseas. This seems to me to permit overcharging Australian book readers without greatly changing the incentives for foreign content creators, who could still receive profits from direct sales into the Australian market without separate Australian copyright.
Perhaps these days the main losers from this arrangement are booksellers, as many book readers just go straight to Amazon or other online booksellers. But Australian readers would benefit from better integration into the North American book market particularly. The US publishing industry manages to produce many good books at very reasonable prices, which get only patchy and often expensive releases here.
I’m not (obviously) against Australian books. But their publication should not be propped up by denying Australian readers quick access to books published elsewhere.