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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

No one wants parallel importation

At the moment the Productivity Commission has 59 submissions up on its site about the issue of ending restrictions on parallel importation of books. Mine is there somewhere.

I think I counted 3 out to the 59 that supported the idea. Maybe I'm wrong and there's actually 4 (in fact one was sufficiently oblique that I couldn't work out what it was really saying).

It will be fascinating to see how this pans out. There's going to be some free trade bias at the Commission, of course, but then again, I have a strong free trade bias myself, and I even found reasons to worry about and argue against a change in policy. It looks like there is almost no support for a change of policy, as a matter of fact, and plenty of reasons have been set out in the more substantial submissions as to how and why a change could be culturally harmful. I mean cultural harm on a scale that will outweigh any small economic gain.

The submissions going up on the site are running about a week behind. I imagine that quite a lot more will have gone in over the last week, with the deadline on Tuesday. I'll eagerly read the rest of them when they become available. I'm betting that the ratio won't change much and that in the end there will be twelve or fifteen submissions arguing against the change for every one that favours it.

So, will this proposal be dropped like a hot potato or will whoever is behind it press on? The sooner there's certainty the better, because Australian publishers must currently be sitting on manuscripts, worried about what a change of policy might mean for their operations.

By the way, since I've published most of my work of any significance overseas, and have never had a book with an Australian trade publisher, this doesn't really affect me. Indeed, if I were thinking about it from a purely selfish viewpoint, I might even benefit slightly from the proposed change - it would make it easier to get books by me published overseas - of which I hope there will be many in the future - to Australia straightaway.

But I'm not a typical case, and I'm not worried about myself. My concern is that it looks like the current arrangements really have helped new Australian authors over the past decade or two. I think this is the clinching argument: why go from a system that has a good record of nurturing talent to one that is likely (when you analyse it) not to do as well?

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