Productivity Commission Report on Book Sales in Australia

The Productivity Commission has handed down its report on book publishing and selling in Australia, and, to no-one's amazement, it has recommended the complete scrapping of any restrictions on publishing in this country.  This was only to be expected.  When the only section of the industry calling out for the change are the large book-chains, and with authors, publishers, and State governments arguing against it, the result was a foregone conclusion. 

The major reason given for the report is that it will make books cheaper for the average consumer.  Oh, really?  Surely the best and quickest way to make books cheaper is to scrap the 10% GST charged on their sale as was argued for about 10 years ago when the Goods and Services tax was introduced.  But that's a different part of government so a GST reduction was never going to happen.

The only outcome from that was possibly conceivable from this report was the one delivered.  I can't remember the last time a major report was commissioned that concluded that the status quo was the best option: there must be an episode of "Yes, Minister" that deals with this - I just can't identify it at the moment. No public servant is going to accept spending a large amount of money on a report to be told that, actually, the current system was the best option. How would they be able to justify that in a management meeting?

The major arguments for the lowering of prices for consumers revolve around the situation of book sales in New Zealand and and music sales in Australia.  I haven't seen anything much about New Zealand books sales and the fate of small independent booksellers and publishers, other than a comment on radio from Henry Rosenbloom - of Scribe Publishing - that New Zealand publishing was in a complete mess.  But according to the Productivity Commission's backers, everything is just fine across the Tasman.

On the music front we have a better set of arguments to consider.  Last Friday, Mark Seymour, ex-frontman of the Australian band "Hunters and Collectors" had an opinion piece published in "The Age" which argued that a similar scrapping of protection for Australian music publishing in the early 1990s had a devastating effect.  Given he is someone who has been involved in that industry since the late 70s or early 80s I would tend to believe him before many others who tout the opposing viewpoint.

I've never been a fan of fixing something that wasn't broken, especially when that something is vibrant and viable. 

I know I tend to concentrate a lot on this weblog on what has happened in the past, but in this situation I am reminded of C.J. Dennis's letter to "The Argus" newspaper that I reprinted here last year.  In that letter he stated that he wanted a level playing field for Australian authors in American publishing.  His point was that American writers and publishers would get a far better deal in Australia than Australian writers and publishers could ever hope to get in America.  If the Productivity Commission's report is accepted by the Federal Government I fear that the same situation will apply in Australia as well. 

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on July 16, 2009 4:12 PM.

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