Books are expensive in Australia — too expensive for many people to afford to buy them regularly. There are complex reasons for this, which, for an economics dummy like me, are difficult to understand. In a nutshell, it seems publishers’ production costs in Australia are higher than in, say, the USA, and local copyright laws prohibit Australian booksellers from ‘parallel importing’ — importing the same books at cheaper prices.
A few years ago, the government considered scrapping these restrictions, but finally decided against it. There was much debate about the pros and cons of parallel importing — see these articles by Jeremy Fisher, Michael Wilding and Matthia Dempsey. Having worked as a book editor in a local publishing company, I understand the need to support this industry that nurtures local writers, but on the other hand it’s difficult to do this if you can’t afford to buy its products.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way around this. If you want a locally produced book by your favourite author, you will need to save your pennies and pay for it — usually between $25 and $45 for new books. In an age of quick illegal digital downloads, I guess this is the equivalent of walking into your local record store and buying a hard-copy album because you choose to support your favourite artists. And so you should.
Of course, you can buy cheap books from second-hand bookstores and op shops, from remainders stores or from foreign online retailers. Does this support local publishing industry? Not really. Remainders stores buy their books from publishers at discounted rates, thus supporting them, but authors do not usually receive royalties from these sales. Second-hand stores don’t hand any money to publishers or authors, although they do employ local staff for their shops. Foreign sellers are the bane of local booksellers and publishers, even though consumers may love them.
Another avenue is buying ebooks, which are significantly cheaper than buying hardcopies… but being an old-fashioned book lover, it may take a while for me to be lured to the digital side.
If you have any book-buying thoughts or tips, please share!