Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Oz to Allow Parallel Importation of Books?

The Australian Government Productivity Commission has released an important report calling for lifting restrictions on parallel imports of books. Parallel imports are legitimate products that are imported from a source other than an "exclusive" national distributor.

Here's the media release and here's the Report.

The Commission found that:

By removing the restrictions, local booksellers would have the option of accessing better value books from overseas. Local publishers would have a strong incentive to make their prices more competitive and to look for greater efficiencies in their operations, the report said.

Some books have important cultural value, but the Commission found that the support to Australian authors provided by the restrictions is poorly targeted. 'One of the Commission's concerns is that consumers pay higher prices for books, regardless of their cultural significance' the Commission's Deputy Chairman, Mike Woods, said. 'A second concern is that these costs to consumers generate greater benefits for overseas authors and publishers than they do for our local writers. In effect, Australian consumers are subsidising foreign book producers.'

Any of this sound familiar? Canada has its own very complex protective sui generis regime to prevent the normal rule of "exhaustion" and to exclude parallel imports of books where there is an "exclusive" Canadian distributor. This is found in s. 27.1 of the Copyright Act and the Book Importation Regulations. This regime affects the price, availablity and access to both new and used books by Canadians.

Clearly, since this regime was put in place more than a decade ago, a lot has changed - including the advent of easy cross border e-commerce for printed books. At times, especially under certain currency conditions, there has been much debate about whether Canadians pay too much for books.

I must say that I have no strong views on this subject at the present time. Books are clearly different things than chocolate bars. I recognize that there have been strong cultural augments in the past for restrictions on the parallel importation of books into Canada.

Whether Canada's regime has accomplished its purpose and whether it works well now or should be adjusted or repealed are questions well worth pursuing by one or more of Industry Canada, Canadian Heritage and the Competition Bureau.

(HT to Jamie Love. Keep the tweets coming!)



  1. Although the productivity commission recomended the removal of PIR's in Australia I can't see it happening any time soon. The PIR's as they stand at the moment are formulated around the 30/90 rule. This means that if an Australian publisher has the right to a book they must publish it within 30 days of it being published overseas and it must not be unavailable/out of stock for a period of 90 continuous days. If the Australian publisher does not meet these conditions any book seller can legally sell the overseas version.
    Proponents for the removal of PIR's will tell you that Australian book prices are artificially inflated because Australian book buyers don't have access to cheaper overseas version. This is in fact wrong and completly missleading. Australian book buyers can jump online and buy any book from any international bookseller at whatever price it is listed at. What does drive up the price of books in Australia is a consumption tax. I'm not sure about Canada but I know that neither the US nor the UK levy a federal tax on books. Both of these economies do, however, have outright bans on book importations.
    The push for the removal of PIR's is being driven by the 3 biggest book retailers in the country. his is more about bigger proffits for them rather than cheaper books for the public.

  2. I completely disagree with Australian Online Bookshop.
    The average new book in Australia costs about $29.95 (soft cover). The exact same book from the US can cost from $21.00 (HARDCOVER!) to $18-$14 (soft cover).
    The Government makes more from the GST/VAT/sales tax on books than Authors get on royalties.
    And at the end the ones whom do the worst are the consumers... And those consumers are switch their purchasing decision... 3x DVDs or 1 Book.
    Do you really think the average Australian is buying books that are so overpriced? No they will get their entertainment else where.

    And old non current books don't get cheaper in Australia - they just stay the same price... Even if the wholesale price is way down...

    And as the productivity commission says the major benefit are overseas Authors.... The whole idea of the banning of 'cheap' books was to provide assistant to Australian Authors... Why are we helping overseas Authors? If there doing well enough to print here, they are doing very well on the international market.

    Finally the Average Author would probably get $1.50 for every book sold. It would be better simply to add a book tax and pay it via that.
    The only people pro the restrictions are those whom sell only a few books at high prices...