Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The ABA/Dymocks flawed compromise on parallel importation

The ABA and Dymocks have seemingly come together around a compromise proposal to the government on reform of our parallel importation provisions.

They want both the 30 day and 90 time frames reduced to seven days.

And they want a price cap policy to be introduced, as exists in Canada (which regulates a maximum 'exchange plus 10%' mark-up).

No matter how many times I've pointed out to both parties, in writing and in person, that both propositions are legally and economically non-starters for Australia, it seems they persist. Some dogs simply can't be put down.

Firstly, the seven days notion: Let me put this as clearly as I can - IT.CONTRAVENES.THE.BERNE.CONVENTION! (See my post of Sept 30 for the exact wording and rationale of Berne's 30 days definition of simultaneous publication).

It's no surprise to me that the ABA has fallen into this trap of seeing the 30 days time frame as some sort of old fashioned relic of analogue shipping times. Well, persuade all the Berne signatories and get it changed there (good luck!), but don't continue to bang on about something that has absolutely no chance of getting up in Australian law. For the same reason that the idea of protecting only 'Australian editions', favored by David Gaunt and Mark Rubbo over the years, has consistently failed the Berne test, so this seven days proposal is a dead cat swinging in the breeze.

As for the Canadian price cap idea: on importation issues Canada is a vastly different place than Australia for one simple reason: it borders the United States. That vast economy is geographically adjacent. This means that the default position of Canadian booksellers is to import direct from the huge publishing and wholesaler warehouses in New Jersey, and get supplies shipped in virtually overnight, at US prices with no markups, and with freight costs similar to Sydney to Melbourne rates. Why the hell wouldn't booksellers do that?

Therefore the Canadians, to enforce local sourcing, had no option but to regulate pricing and availability, and guarantee booksellers and consumers comparable service standards.

Could you think of a situation less like that prevailing in Australia? The default position of Australian booksellers is exactly the opposite: to source locally. The importation route is far more costly. Trucks don't traverse the Pacific overnight. Air freighting is necessary, prohibitively expensive, and shipments are always weeks away.

What really annoys me about the booksellers' position however is this: they abandoned their consistent position over the last 20 years of supporting complete abolition of the PIRs, which would have absolutely given them what they still profess to want, and instead have opted for a nonsensical set of propositions which have ZERO chance of getting up. So they are likely to be stuck with no improvement at all.

It's been a disastrous performance and a hopelessly wrong-headed campaign. By choosing to support the publishers on the basic notion of protection, they've had nowhere to go but to invent a 'have your cake and eat it' mess, which is akin to straddling a barbed wire fence for reasons of comfort!

As for Dymocks' notion of forcing publishers to cough up 1% of their revenues to establish a fund to support the publishing of 'culturally worthy' books, the less said about this the better. It is simply one of the most absurd propositions I've ever heard advanced in all my years in the trade. Dymocks cannot claim on the one hand that publishers are massively overreacting to the prospect of an open market, and that indigenous publishing won't collapse, and then pose a 'solution' to that very prospect!

The ABA/Dymocks 'compromise' position will get no traction in Canberra whatsoever. There is only one compromise position that ticks all the necessary legal, economic and political boxes, and that's the one I myself, with great respect, have proposed (elsewhere on this blog).

My god, give me a drink..


RachaelMc said...

Go Peter! I must admit I'm sick of shaking my head with all of this carry on. Somedays it gets too ridiculous for words so go and have that drink and enjoy it!!

Peter Donoughue said...

If Rudd doesn't get on with it and announce his government's position, I gonna end up in rehab!!

The wait is killing me!