books

The proposal that will spell extinction for Australian authors.

Like books? Like Australian books? Read on.

A threat is looming, people. A threat that is making a raft of Australian authors come out from behind their laptops and speak up. And their words are chilling.

Magda Szubanski, winner of the Australian Book Industry Award Book of the Year for her outstanding memoir, Reckoning, said: ‘If this comes in, I will not write another book and I will really start thinking about leaving the country.’

Listen to Magda Szubanski speak to Mia Freedman on the No Filter podcast. 


Listen to the full interview in itunes.

Richard Flanagan, winner of the world’s most prestigious literary prize, the Man Booker, for his magnificent novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North said that these changes will ‘destroy any future for Australian writers.’

Tim Winton, winner of the ABIA Non-fiction Book of the Year for his compelling investigation into the way Australia makes us who we are, Island Home, said these changes will ‘usher in a new colonial era in publishing. Once again Australian writers will be edited in London and read in export editions at home as they were when I was a kid. That’s just a huge and pointless step backwards.’

The prolific Thomas Keneally, author of too many books, and too many awards to mention, directing his comments to Malcolm Turnbull said:  ‘(Australian publishing) has raised itself to be the 17th biggest book industry in the world. I refuse to believe that such a robust Australian as yourself wants to do away with that and make us again and forever what we were when I began to write – a colony for other people’s minds and other people’s books.’

Tim Winton says these changes will "usher in a new colonial era in publishing". 

If you are anything like me, you might be finding it hard to bring yourself to give a toss about the current federal election. The five PMs in five years thing has taken its toll. And now, after a brief flirtation with the idea that in Malcolm we may have finally scored that leader with the ‘steady hands at the wheel’ that his predecessor kept slogan-ing on about, that we may have a man with a vision and a keen eye on innovation to boot, I’m ashamed to say that it kind of feels like it doesn’t even matter what any of them say any more. I’ve found myself feeling completely over it. Beyond over it. I’ve stopped listening.

Stopped listening, I should say, until I found out about THIS, because now suddenly, I’m all ears:

Apparently our ray of light, the man who is keen on innovation, might not be so keen on books. Not Australian ones, anyway. Word has it that he’s strongly considering implementing a proposal by the Productivity Commission that will spell catastrophe (that’s c-a-t-a-s-t-r-o-p-h-e) for the Australian publishing industry. And by almost guaranteed extension, for Australian authors, and for lovers of Australian books.

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These changes would spell catastrophe for Australian authors. 

The proposal is to remove the provisions in the Australian Copyright Act that restrict parallel importation of books. Let me try to break it down for you:

Basically, the Australian Copyright Act lets Australian publishers both:

  • buy exclusive rights to distribute overseas books for sale in Australia; and
  • sell exclusive rights to overseas publishers to distribute Australian books for sale overseas.

Publishers call this ‘territorial copyright’. If you have a bit of a think about some of the types of books this allows Australian publishers exclusive rights to distribute here – Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, that kind of thing, you’ll get an idea how many buckets of moolah this means for Australian publishers.

The proposal is that those exclusive rights provided for by the Copyright Act be removed so that any bookseller can source any overseas title by any means they see fit, and sell it for any price they like. They can even source overseas editions of already published Australian titles and sell them for any price they like.

Sounds like we might get to buy some overseas books for less money if competition gets opened up like that, doesn’t it? Doesn’t sound so awful at all, does it?

Well let me tell you, it IS awful, and let me tell you WHY it’s awful.

Aside from the likely assault on the already tenuous incomes of authors by the consequential reduction in royalties (no royalties at all would be payable on those overseas editions), there is something else to consider, and this is the bit that all the proponents of the changes seem to be missing: Those buckets of money that Australian publishers make from the big overseas blockbuster titles – do you know what they spend it on? They spend it on finding, developing and publishing new Australian authors. They spend it on Australian voices telling Australian stories. They spend it on titles they know they will lose money on but are so great, and tell an Australian story so well, they think they deserve to be read. They invest in Australian authors. They invest in NEW Australian authors, with new stories to tell. This is the sort of stuff I would have thought would be right up Malcolm’s alley.

Peter FitzSimons is the author of over 27 books. Post continues after video. 

But apparently not.

The proposed changes are a direct hit to me as an emerging Australian author. They are also a direct hit to me … and to YOU … as a reader of Australian stories.

And really, how much more can the publishing industry in this country take before it completely buckles? Australian publishing has already weathered the massive storms and trails of debris left by digital publishing and online book buying (that sends gazillions of dollars overseas annually.) Australian authors have had to bear the brunt of these storms. Authors who five years ago would have been published in print are now only being published digitally ‘to see how they go’ (I know about this one, ahem, from personal experience!)

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Some have suggested the worst of it is behind us. But I am afraid all of this may seem like a little sun shower compared to what will happen to Australian authors and readers of Australian stories if all of a sudden Australian publishing houses don’t have the money in the kitty to publish them.

Our bookstores will be lined with a glut of overseas titles that sell in big numbers – which is all fine and dandy if Kim Kardashian memoirs are your thing. But if you like the idea of picking up a book by an Aussie author, an author you’ve never heard of before but you decide to take a chance on them and you start to read the book and think, I SO GET THIS, I RECOGNISE THE CHARACTERS IN THIS BOOK, THIS IS MY STORY, THIS IS AN AUSTRALIAN STORY, then you need to be concerned.

If you've ever read a book and gone, 'I SO GET THIS, I RECOGNISE THE CHARACTERS IN THIS BOOK, THIS IS MY STORY, THIS IS AN AUSTRALIAN STORY', then you need to be concerned.

I asked HarperCollins Publishers Australia CEO, James Kellow, what he thinks about it and this is what he had to say:

‘Rescinding territorial copyright will devalue the Australian market and reduce investment. Not overnight maybe, but certainly over a generation. For want of a tweak on the tiller, we’re going to capsize the boat. It’s naïve, unnecessary and demeaning to an industry that is competitive, unsubsidised and successful.’

And now I want to know, before I vote, what Malcolm and Bill actually plan to do with these proposals. I’m listening. I’m all ears, in fact.

From what I understand, Malcolm is still thinking about them. As yet, I haven’t heard Bill categorically state that Labor will not implement the proposals. I know he has been busy fending off sexism claims of late, and I know he has taken the time to make a statement about his commitment to the Arts, which is appreciated. He has said Labor will consider the changes ‘with caution’. But as for a definitive ‘Not on my watch’ statement about the proposals to remove the parallel importation restrictions … I’m still waiting.

"I want to know, before I vote, what Malcolm and Bill actually plan to do with these proposals." - Deborah Disney.

So, whether you plan to vote for Malcolm or Bill or someone else (and I know that in this country we don’t have presidential style elections and that we don’t really, actually, vote for Malcolm or Bill unless we live in their respective electorates, but you know what I’m getting at, right?) if you care about Australian books, if you want to keep seeing Australian books in Australian bookstores, if you want to hear Australian stories being told by fresh Australian voices, what you need to do is make it clear to them that you DO NOT SUPPORT THESE CHANGES.

Write to your local member. Hell, just write to Malcolm and/or Bill. Clog up their inboxes with fresh Australian voices! Sign the petition. Spread it on Facebook. Make sure that all your book-loving friends know that these changes are afoot and that WE NEED TO STOP THEM. #BooksCreate

Australian author, Deborah Disney, practised as a litigation lawyer prior to finding her true calling in the school pick-up line where she started typing a little story on the notes app on her iPhone one afternoon. Deborah’s first novel, Up and In, was published by HarperCollins in 2014, hitting the bestseller charts on both Amazon and iBooks and enjoying international acclaim. Deborah is currently working on her second novel, which is about in-laws.

You can connect with Deborah anytime on Facebook

You can find Up and In on Amazon   iBooks   Kobo   GooglePlay  and more.

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