Borders and Angus and Robertson and Protection in the Book Industry
In November 2009, the Rudd government refused to accept recommendations from the Productivity Commission to open up the Australian book market. This was done to shore up jobs in so-called Australian publishing (so-called, because the firms are mainly British). Effectively the government told Australian bookshops they could not buy books from cheaper overseas suppliers. As a result, Australians have continued to pay up to one third more than they should.
This old-fashioned protectionism was designed to save McPherson’s, a struggling factory with 300 employees in Maryborough, Victoria, but it disadvantaged book selling businesses across Australia. It limited competition at the wholesale level. It meant that when a best seller like a new Harry Potter came along it could only be supplied by a local publisher (as I said, mainly British owned ones) and the book shops could not import and sell to their customers cheaper overseas produced versions.
Today Borders and Angus and Robertson entered administration. 2500 thousand jobs are at risk and store closures will follow. Bad news for employees in retail. Bad news for book lovers across this country.
But that’s protection for you: you shore up jobs in a clapped out factory that is doomed to close eventually, but you lose them in retail and service.
In the face of internet purchases and the arrival of e-books, the position of Australian bookshops and the jobs associated with them demand the opening up of the market, that is, competition at the wholesale level to give us cheaper books.
The silliest argument advanced for book industry protection is that it subsidises publishers so they can bring more Australian works into print. Bullshit. No publisher has ever been able to nominate a single work that has been printed on non-commercial grounds. And if there has been a flourishing of Australian literature as this protection has been enforced it has escaped me and most Australian readers.
(I serve proudly on the board of the Dymocks group of companies. Oh, and I should declare another interest. I buy a lot of books)