Literary luvvie draws long bow

The Lavartus Prodeo Agincourt Awards for the Longest Bow – designed to highlight arguments built on exaggerated and hence tenuous links – don’t seem to have continued beyond the initial nomination and my counter-nomination of the nominator (glass houses, etc).

However, the SMH published a worthy entrant yesterday. As regular readers may recall, the literary luvvies are campaigning strongly against unrestricted ‘parallel importing’ of books into Australia, which would allow booksellers to import any book even if it is, or will be, also issued by a local publisher. The issue is the subject of a Productivity Commission inquiry.

In the SMH yesterday, author and journalist Malcom Knox tries to draw a connection between claimed low readership of books in India and the fact that India is a ‘land of piracy’, and a further connection to say that this is relevant to Australia

Now a quick Google search failed to substantiate Knox’s claim that, given its average income, education and literacy levels, India has a weak book culture. One of the few things I found was this rather bullish piece about Indian publishing, reporting more than 10,000 publishers, though only 20 were publishing English language books. As in Australia, the major global publishers seem to be active there.

And nor can we draw much of a conclusion from Knox’s point that four Indian Booker Prize winners were first published outside India and their books imported there – three of the four mostly live outside India anyway.

But even if Knox’s India factoids are right, it is hard to see what it has to do with Australia. Are low rates of book sales in copyright-weak India supposed to warn Australians that we are going to stop reading if we get cheaper books from America? I struggle with this luvvie logic. Doesn’t the picking up of talented Indian writers by global publishers show that talent will find an outlet even with weak domestic publishing?

And of course nobody is proposing that copyright be abolished. If Knox is worried about his books being published overseas and dumped in Australia, lessening his local royalties, he should use contract to prevent this happening. The attack on current parallel importing rules really isn’t about getting discount copies of books by Australian authors, it is about improving Australia’s access to American and other foreign authors. I’m yet to see a convincing argument that the costs of the current parallel importing rules outweigh their benefits.

27 thoughts on “Literary luvvie draws long bow

  1. I can usually get a book more cheaply from thebookdepository.co.uk than I can from a bookshop in Australia. (unlike Amazon, they have free shipping from the UK to Australia). And they ship the books individually even when you order several — not sure how they can afford to do that. The cover price is usually a bit more than Amazon US, and the range is smaller, but it’s well worth looking at.

    Knox’s vague final paragraph gives away the fact that he doesn’t really have an argument.

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  2. I seem to remember that the world was going to end when CD parallel importing was ‘unbanned’, yet that has not happened. (about 2001)

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  3. I am somewhat sympathetic to the view you put, but I would be more likely to accept the validity of your case if you dropped the tedious “luvvie” crap. As soon as I see that sort of lame labelling, it is hard not to assume that the case being put is mostly driven by some tiresome ‘culture war’ stoush.

    I’m so not interested in that, but I think the arguments for and against parallel importing of books do merit some genuine consideration.

    I think the reality of what happened with CDs when parallel importing opened up, as opposed to what the industry said would happen, is a good case study. Books are different to music to some extent, but also plenty of paralells (pardon the pun, etc)

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  4. “I’m so not interested in that, but I think the arguments for and against parallel importing of books do merit some genuine consideration.”

    People would more likely accept the validity of your case if you provided more than just a stock standard politician response? Which arguments do you think merit consideration?

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  5. Do the academic publishers have a similar sort of a scheme going? Normal textbooks in the US cost around half of what they do here, and some quite widely used tests costs less than half. I’m generally surprised by how many students still buy their textbooks from the university stores versus simply get them via Amazon or the like.

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  6. Conrad – Another interesting angle to the debate, though a lot of textbooks sold here (from occasional observation) are from the local arms of global publishers, who presumably have different prices around the world depending on local conditions. (When I was googling Indian publishing, I found a complaint about pirated US textbooks being sold back into the US market, so clearly they are also expensive there.)

    Rafe – As I expressly have a civility policy, picking me up on being rude is fair enough. I generally think that Knox’s work is pretty good, so he is much more than just a ‘luvvie’, but this piece was weak.

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  7. I’m with Rafe on this. The fact that Andrew Bartlett pays more attention to labels than he does arguments is an indictment in itself.

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  8. Of course we are always going to cut some slack for our friends and fellow travellers but we should try to use the same standards for everyone most of the time.
    “Luvvies” can be used in a neutral, hostile or friendly sense and it is hardly worth the the electrons to take it up in this instance but the point about double standards is worth making from time to time.
    Gaza is a more important example. How many of the people on the streets at present said anything about the persistent Hamas violation of the ceasefire?

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  9. Rafe
    It is not simply a case of double standards (or for that matter “equality” of labelling) – surely the issue is why it is used at all. Labelling is puerile and doesn’t add to the merits of an argument, in fact it tends to distract the reader.

    Andrew
    I appreciate that was a rather flippant comment but the apparent imbalance in the treatment of Hamas in the more ‘sophisicated’ press is itself an issue worth exploring!

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  10. Although this thread is probably a par for the course case of Australians taking a word and turning the meaning upside downunder without fully grasping its context and then using it for their own parochial uninformed arguments, let’s clear up your use of UK English:

    Andrew, you are probably amongst the top 10 literary luvvies in Ozblogistan. It’s indexical meaning, refers to gay male actors and their female associates. If I had to name a luvvie with books in Ozblogistan.. (it wouldnt be JC)

    Either
    a) You know this (subconsciously) and you are making a collective advertisement to fill a gap.
    b) You associate love and caring with leftist bleeding hearts, and you think yours is fairly well hidden.
    c) ..

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  11. Sinclair

    on the contrary, if you have to resort to ad hominem attacks, like calling people luvvies, it just shows how weak your argument is.

    How would you like it if someone dismissed your research on the basis of you being a white South African?

    On the topic, it’s an issue that predates the internet and is now a non issue. Anyone can import whatever they like from Amazon. Even with the exchange rate as it is and the shipping costs, it’s cheaper than buying locally.

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  12. How would you like it if someone dismissed your research on the basis of you being a white South African?

    Some people do already 🙂 mind you, I’ve been subject to less lefty racism in the past few years.

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  13. LoL. Yes, well. Try calling a real yarpie a ‘Yarpie’ and watch what happens. Not for nothing did we Essa’s (English speaking South African) call them ‘ropes’ (thick hairy and twisted). 🙂

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  14. I thought ‘luvvie’ was quite a good description. It’s not in the least offensive, more gently dismissive, which should only be a problem for those inclined to run to mummy should somebody call them a Name.

    I wasn’t in the least distracted by it, and nor do I think it puerile. Collective nouns are very useful, and ‘luvvies’ is a lot more gentle and less judgemental than ‘leftists’, which tends to be used most often (including by you I notice, Parkos).

    Anyway – welcome back Parkos! Can’t wait for you to crank up the anecdote machine!

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  15. It’s true that most voices opposing parallel importing are luvvies. But its also true that most of those supporting it are also luvvies. Simply, most of those with an interest in the issue are luvvies – it’s the nature of the topic. As a generalisation, the right aren’t great readers (except maybe blogs).

    This luvvie is very much in favour of cheap books and of making foreign publishers more ready to give new Australian writers who are good enough (a very small minority) a go. And yeah, Andrew Knox’s par was dreadful – if that’s the best the rentseekers can do they should give up now.

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  16. I don’t know either of these two individuals so cannot say what they call each other. Maybe “Graeme” and “Jacques”, or “Kallie”? I suggest if you were to meet either of them that you called them “Menheer” and not “Yarpie” 🙂

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  17. I am somewhat sympathetic to the view you put, but I would be more likely to accept the validity of your case if you dropped the tedious “luvvie” crap. As soon as I see that sort of lame labelling, it is hard not to assume that the case being put is mostly driven by some tiresome ‘culture war’ stoush.

    Andrew B. Acts Aggressively Against Andrew N.’s Alliterations.

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  18. It is indeed tiresome in the extreme to see the ”literary luvvie” label, and obvious that you may not have properly understood what the issue is about. Any author or publisher is right to be alarmed by the likely consequences flowing from an extremely short-sighted attempt on the part of booksellers like Dymocks to get rid of the supposed incursion of Amazon on their patch. They are happy to trash Australian writers’ careers and Australian publishers for what, exactly? They may find that removing the restrictions does exactly the opposite of what they think–and that not only will there be more cheap discount stores selling dumped and remaindered books, but Amazon.com.au will become a reality.

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  19. Here’s my bet. On line sales have actually increased the spread of books in the world.

    With the opportunity to buy online, i would also bet that the experience of buying a book over the web is far different than buying one at a bookstore. Bookstores are for weekend strolling by most people and is more attuned to impulse buying. Online is more for specific purchases. Both have their advantages and both can and will live together. Overall the consumer wins out.

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  20. The parallel import ban seems a lot like the protection of Australian car manufacturers – we are protecting our high-cost, perhaps inefficient local (book/car) manufacturing industry from competing with efficient, low-cost overseas producers.
    Australian writers’ careers & success do not rest on their books being printed in Australia. Do they? If we have writers and publishers that appeal to the Australian market, people can buy them regardless of where they were printed. Many Australian publishers already have their books printed in Asia.
    What this will affect is publishers who buy local publishing rights to overseas books. Now they’ll have to compete on cost with the overseas edition. That can only be good for readers who will likely have lower cost books. It will be most beneficial for readers with low disposable incomes. Surely the book industry wants more people to be able to afford books?

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