The biggest barrier to the Australian book industry's success won't be the demise of parallel import restrictions; it'll be the cultural cringe spruiked by authors and the publishing industry that stops it being globally competitive.
Yesterday the Productivity Commission released its final report recommending the scrapping of import restrictions for books. The final report's recommendations went well beyond the draft report's recommendations and proposed the abolition of import restrictions after three years.
In response to the inquiry, book publishers and printers whipped authors into a tizz. And authors have been used to oppose liberalisation by pulling at the heartstrings of consumers and their sympathy for Australiana.
For example, after Tim Winton recently received his fourth Miles Franklin Award for his book Breath, he used the platform to claim that import restrictions helped foster local authors and end the cultural cringe that pervaded Australian books pre-1980.
But the claims are baseless.
In its review the Productivity Commission asked for evidence since the removal of parallel import restrictions on sound recordings in Australia and most copyrighted works, including books, in New Zealand.
Both occurred in 1998 and the evidence is overwhelming.
Data from the Australian Performing Rights Association shows that since the liberalisation of sound recordings the total royalties paid have more than doubled and the number of artists paid increased by more than 50,000. Meanwhile the average price of CDs has collapsed by 32 per cent, while total sales have remained relatively stagnant.
Book prices may not collapse as much, but the data from the CDs shows that Australia's cultural industries can still thrive without protectionism. Evidence from a NZ government-commissioned report found there was no appreciable decline in the publication of local works after the country scrapped import restrictions. And in 2004 an industry spokesperson conceded that since liberalisation there was an increase in the number of NZ books published.
The case is so clear that Melbourne University Publishing chief executive Louise Adler walked out of a radio debate against Dymocks board member Bob Carr, who simply repeated these facts against the publishers' and authors' claims.
Opponents of decreased liberalisation also argue that without protection the printing industry won't have the economic certainty necessary to invest in the technology that will make the industry more competitive. But post-liberalisation the NZ printing industry has continued with comparable investment as the manufacturing sector overall.
Arguments that printing industry jobs will be protected also have been shown up. An analysis of printing jobs in Australia and NZ shows both are in decline; the only difference is that Australia's have declined faster, and we are the ones with import restrictions.
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