Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rubbish from the APA on parallel importation.

It has to be said that of all the nonsense written by various parties in the course of this debate - not just during the current Productivity Commission enquiry, but over the last 20 years - it would be hard to beat the exquisite madness being served up by the Australian Publishers Association (though I have to admit Peter Carey is probably still in the lead - see my blog entry of Jan 28.)

APA executive Jose Borghino issued the following statement this week in response to the Commission's draft report. Just about every phrase, every clause, every sentence is wrong. Not just wrong in understanding, in judgement, in rhetoric, but factually wrong.

My comments are in italics throughout:

‘How can the Government take seriously a ‘Discussion Draft' that is so ideologically pre-determined (no it isn't, it's just Economics 101) that it says, words to the effect that: We really don't know what the industry looks like or how big it is (the commission outlines how it went to great pains to estimate the size of the industry from a variety of sources), but let's destroy the back list (introducing competition is not destroying anything), make copyright worthless after a year (removing the PIRs after 12 months has nothing to do with removing 'copyright'), discourage exports and overseas rights sales (the commission, naively, suggests delaying, if publishers wanted to do that) boost Asian printers and American book-packers (even if this were true - which it isn't - is it necessary to go there?), exacerbate the leakage of books through Amazon ( exactly?), ensure Rudd and Gillard's education revolution is based on Third World materials that have been stripped of any high-quality online teaching aids (colorful but wrong, and yet another unjustified slur not just on Asians but on Australia's teachers and academics), make the whole system more complicated rather than more streamlined (in fact no more complicated than the current one) , and export skilled jobs in printing and publishing to our major competitors in Asia? (there it is again!)'--

(Borghino also claims that the commission's estimate of the size of the industry at $2.5 billion is way overstated. He claims it is only $1.7 to $2.0 billion. How way out of touch the PC is! The commission is clearly measuring retail and end-consumer revenues which Borghino confuses with publishers' net receipts - a common error.)

The APA should do a lot better than this. It's really not helping, and it's greatly lowering the quality and tone of the debate.


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, what do you think of the mainstream media coverage of this debate? cheers SusieQ

Peter Donoughue said...

Hi Susie

I obviously haven't seen all of the coverage but quite a lot of it, which has been pretty representative of the overwhelming confusion in the minds of the vast majority of commentators from the industry.

Right from the start the small, Melbourne based publishers such as Michael Heyward from Text and Henry Rosenbloom from Scribe were very powerful voices in defense of the status quo. Seemingly, everything Michael wrote was picked up by Jason Steger of the Age, and Henry always gets a good run on the ABC's Radio National.
There's no doubt these guys can write, Henry in particular, so their copy is always colorful and interesting. What disappoints me however is that they have framed the debate as all about the concept of territorial copyright, portraying the government as out to destroy it. In the long history of this debate this is the first time the very existence of territorial copyright has assumed centre stage. Previously it has always been about bookseller importation, in theory and practice, and whether eliminating the last remnants of deregulation would have much effect. This is why the Booksellers Association always supported abolition.

But now that the terms of the debate have changed a great many independant booksellers have sided with the publishers - 'we depend on territorial copyright too' - leaving only the big retailers like Dymocks, Target, K-Mart, etc, arguing for complete abolition. The ABA itself has been pretty effectively neutered, with members divided.

In this context the mainstream media can be forgiven for running with majority opinion. On the ABC news last night, well-respected bookseller Sally Chilvers got a sympathic run but what she said was very ordinary and in fact quite wrong. She maintained that there is no evidence that prices would come down if the PIRs were abolished. Depite the illogicality - until they're actually removed how can we know?, and if nothing will change why is most of the industry scared to death? - the fact is, as pointed out by the Commission, the upwards pressure on prices will be removed. Therefore, logically...

The authors have also got a very sympathetic run in the media. They just write good copy, and book buyers are broadsheet buyers too. But they're univerally confused! It's been horrible to witness. Very little space or air time has been given to the reform view. My blog has been the only consistent voice in favor of reform.

Don Glover from Dymocks, supported by Bob Carr, have also got publicity, but their case has not been articulated strongly enough. They've left way too many holes for the likes of Henry and other publishers to jump in. continues!