I've said it plenty of times before, and I'll say it again: calls by Australian publishers and booksellers for the government to force Amazon to charge GST to Australian customers are profoundly misplaced. As a government policy it would be just plain bad.
Here are the reasons:
1. It would dampen the pressure on publishers to keep their markups on imported titles reasonable and competitive. (And the government have relied on this pressure as a justification for not tampering with the parallel importation restrictions).
2. Booksellers should welcome this pressure, not lobby to weaken it. The most effective way for booksellers to compete with Amazon is through ramping up the pressure on publishers to be more competitive on pricing, delivery and trading terms, and certainly not by (once again!) supporting publishers in their efforts to be protected from it.
3. I'm not an accountant or tax expert, but I'm sure it's relevant that the GST is a value-added tax, not a consumption tax or sales tax. So businesses have to be in the Australian value chain to be able to deal with it administratively and financially. Businesses that charge the tax receive input tax credits for the GST charged all the way through their supply chain. Overseas businesses supplying direct to consumers are, by definition, not in the supply loop. Nor are they subject to Australian law. This is why calls to 'slap a GST on Amazon like US states that impose their sales taxes', are naive. It's apples and oranges. If ever Amazon sets up a distribution centre in Australia, that's when they'll be forced to charge GST.
4. The Rudd government has just decided that Amazon is the savior - a friend of booksellers, printers, authors, readers, because of the pressure it puts on publishers to ratchet up their performance. So does the industry really think the government will now agree to protect publishers from that competitive rod up their arse?
5. Booksellers have one huge advantage in competing against Amazon - they don't have to charge freight. If that sizable impost doesn't currently deter Australians from purchasing from Amazon, then an additional 10% GST won't make one skerrick of difference, and is frequently washed away by currently fluctuations anyway. Why do booksellers keep banging on about this? Go to the publishers instead and bang on about the need for better, more responsive terms. That would be entirely productive.
6. It's simply not a good look for the trade to be arguing that book buyers should be lumped with another tax. And it's not a good look to keep arguing in Canberra for additional protection. Talk of 'levelling the playing field' is a dead give-away. It's how rent-seekers frame it.
It really is time the book trade grew up, and began to focus on the real issues facing it. There is so much that could be done if all parties stopped being distracted and absorbed by ephemera.