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.