Last January, I went into a bookshop in Queenscliff and found multiple copies of several of my novels on the shelves. They were American hardback editions of books. At $26, they were a steal. Literally.
The books were remainders, probably bought for next to nothing. The bookseller stood to make a considerable margin. I stood to earn nothing, since no royalties were payable. My Australian publisher stood to lose a sale.
The bookshop was acting contrary to the current parrallel import regime. But the Productivity Commission has just recommended that exactly this kind of dumping onto the Australian book market be allowed.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m not in the wrong line of work. The Australian says I am a leech on my readers. Bob Carr reckons that little kiddies in Penrith are illiterate because of my unbridled greed. Dymocks, Target, Woolworths and Coles think it would be best for everybody if I worked for nothing. According to the Productivity Commission, I should be stripped of my property rights, given a taxpayer-funded grant and forget about trying to build an international readership.
Writing a novel is an act of hope. You hope it is good. You hope it will be published. You hope critics will like it and people will read it. You even dare to hope you might make a little bit of money from it. You hope your publisher might make a bit of money so they’ll want to publish the next one. So even in the nutty slab of ideological boilerplate released yesterday by the Productivity Commission, I cannot help but look for a sliver of hope.
I certainly do not hope PC’s recommendations are implemented. That would be sheer vandalism, the infliction of injury on a healthy industry without heed to the possible consequences. But I do hope that the government sees this as an opportunity to declare its support for our writers and publisher and bookprinters and independent booksellers who have all done the hard yard to make our story so successful.
Last time these proposals went to parliament, they were opposed by Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner. Under the current arrangements, Australian publishing has flourished. If there are new and compelling reasons to kick it in the guts, they have not been persuasively argued in the Productivity Commission report.
The ball is now in the government’s court. I hope it has the good sense to sort fact from fiction, possibly even undertake a proper study of the Australian publishing industry, one informed by more reliable data and rigorous analysis than employed by the Productivity Commission.
In the meantime, I’m thinking about getting into the fantasy genre. I’ve got an idea for a story set in an imaginary world in which a band of selfless superheroes known as the Coalition for Cheaper Books rescue Australian readers from the greed and tyrany of local authors, publishers, booksellers and printers by using a magical talisman called the Hidden Hand.
I’m sure it’ll find a ready market. Some people will believe anything.
Shane Maloney is authour of the Murray Whelan series.