The battle of the books:

Author of Possum Magic and other childrens’ books Mem Fox writes: Re. “The battle of the books turns political” (yesterday, item 2). Bernard Keane has dismissed writers’ words on the issue of the cheaper importation of books so let me try numbers instead.

Authors in the Western world own what is called ‘territorial’ copyright, meaning they earn a higher royalty in their own country: 10% for the average adult book, than on they do on overseas sales when they receive a reduced royalty of 6.6% or less.

One of the current proposals of the Productivity Commission is that Australia alone, of all Western nations, should remove the local, territorial copyright of its writers, that is the right to earn a decent 10% royalty in the first instance, prior to overseas sales.

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No other country would act in such away — in France it would be the cause of riots. It’s tantamount to firing the entire writing work-force in Australia and outsourcing it to other countries, who will in turn change the vocabulary and cultural references that the outsourcing country finds difficult to grasp. This, in its turn, would mean in our case, that particularly Australian books would not be published.

No go for a book like Possum Magic, then, with a huge loss to readers and local cultural capital. In Australia, as a picture-book author sharing royalties with an illustrator, I earn 5% of the price paid for each book: one Possum Magic paperback earns a royalty of 64 cents from the rrp of $12.95. I pay tax on that, and the GST on the Australian editions of Possum Magic exceeds the royalty which means the government earns more from my writing than I do.

I’ve been receiving Australian royalties for Possum Magic for 26 years and had hoped to do so forever to avoid being a burden on the tax payer in my dotage.

In my case, the removal of Australia territorial copyright would mean a royalty of 3.3% on all my books, in Australia as well as overseas: 29 cents as opposed to 64 cents. It makes an old Work Choices contract look like a gift from a fairy godmother. Why would Australia do that to me? Should I move to France?

Nick Shimmin writes: Re. “The battle of the books turns political” (yesterday, item 2). I guess journos like Bernard Keane need to be adept at cramming websites for 30 minutes to appear like experts on the book industry, but congratulations to Sophie Cunningham (“The future book industry: barns filled with remainders” yesterday, item 18) (someone who knows a thing or two about the business) to nail the absurdity of the arguments of the “Coalition for Cheaper Books”.

I’d very much like to hear about any other industry where the big corporate players selflessly advocated a cheaper product (and possibly a decline in their own revenue) for the humble consumer. Of course Big W, K Mart and Dymocks are in this to maximise their profits, Dymocks largely because their franchise model is looking more and more precarious for their poor franchisees. These small retailers are chiselled between Dymocks head office and their shopping mall landlords, and their margins become less viable by the day.

If these big players do manage to wholesale cheaper books, the likelihood of that reduced cost being passed on to consumers is minimal, and those who believe otherwise are naive in the extreme. It remains to be seen if the government are so in thrall to corporate lobbying that they swallow this one.

Ian Derrick writes: I am constantly disappointed that articles about, book prices in Australia, always completely ignore the rapidly growing existence of …The Digital Book. For many moons now I have owned a, BE-BOOK eBook Reader and it Is absolutely a marvellous experience. Weighs just 220 grams, no bigger than the average paperback. Most new releases are 30-40% cheaper than the printed book, download in a couple of minutes, plus no freight or postage charges. Older editions maybe up to 90% cheaper than the print version. Books out of copyright are usually free.

Like most, digital book readers, they use e-ink on e-paper, with reflected light (exactly the same as a printed book), and of greater importance, the reader may increase the size of the font.

My regional book shop may not stock books I wish to purchase, it is very rare when I cannot find a digital version of that book online. I no longer buy printed books; quite soon no one will NEED to buy printed books. We will all carry the simple, uncomplicated, battery charged- e-book reader.

Angus Sharpe writes: The Book Gouging Laws (restricting the sale of imported books) are a rort. Your books are remaindered because no-one wants to read them. Not because customs officers miss them at the border.

None of today’s (three) Crikey articles describe what we are talking about. That is, your publisher sells the book in America for (the equivalent of) AUD$10, and in Australia for AUD$20. The Book Gouging Laws stop me from buying the genuine US book and selling it in Australia for AUD$15.

Have you ever bought a (genuine) DVD from the USA or the UK, and found that you cannot play it on your Australian DVD player? That is because your player can only play “Region 4” DVDs. Region coding DVDs also allows companies to charge different prices in different countries. And is also a rort. For exactly the same reason.

Removing the Book Gouging Laws certainly won’t raise prices. But certainly will increase competition (i.e. almost certainly lower prices). Are the members of the Australia Counsel still on strike? Go and ask them for money if your books are remaindered. But remove these stupid laws in the mean time.

Michael James writes: Re. “Readers have nothing to fear from the Productivity Commission” (Tuesday, item 1). The very fact that an entity called the Productivity Commission* is reviewing this is scary enough. And their second recommendation outdoes Orwell himself: “The Government should … review the current subsidies aimed at encouraging Australian writing and publishing, with a view to better targeting of cultural externalities.”

I’d like to take their externalities and internalize them right up their backsides! Great, so now we will have another government body determining cultural subsidies. No doubt Bob Carr and Allan Fels will get to sit on its board. Henson types and for that matter Christos Tsiolkos, Keane and Rundle need not apply.

The idiocy is that I cannot see what is driving all this. (I suppose Dymock’s lobbying, and Bob Carr’s conflicted position, is a clue.) As I have shown in yesterday’s accompanying article there is not a huge difference in price, and the biggest difference is in books outside the PIR. Last night on TV reports Allan Fels (I think) held up a copy of Breath saying that it costs A$24.95 and was cheaper overseas. Well if you buy it singly from Amazon it is A$26.63 and actually you can buy it for $16.22 (Myers) or $18.33 (Borders).

In any case does one really imagine a teensy country on the other side of the planet to everyone else, expect such retail items ever to be as cheap as in the ca. 450M NAFTA market? My experience with Europe (esp. UK, France) and most of Asia, is that we are doing pretty well. The only way they could end up cheaper is that repeal of the PIR which is partly an anti-dumping law, will allow dumping of remaindered books from the giant NAFTA market onto our tiny market, with zip recompense to the Australian authors or publishers.

*It was probably a commission like this that approved Murdoch to retain ownership of all the News Ltd Australian titles (the Americans certainly don’t allow much of their media to be owned by non-citizens, hence citizen Murdoch). I don’t know if cultural externalities were involved but I do know that newspapers and journalism in this country are heading down the toilet. Nor should they have ever allowed the grandfathering of the outrageous newspaper monopoly in Brisbane (at the time News relocated to Delaware; in the same situation the US would have forced him to sell at least one of the papers). But if you don’t want any societal controls put on so-called free-trade, this is what we end up. Surely someone who writes for Crikey would agree? Or perhaps Bernard is perfectly happy to be taken over by News Ltd?

Rob Johnston writes: Re. “Shane Maloney: I am a leech on my readers” (yesterday, item 3). Why don’t Aussie authors receive royalties for books printed elsewhere and sold here? I assumed that no matter where a book is sold or printed royalties would flow to the author from the sale of that book. Why is this not the case?

Stern Hu:

Paul Gilchrist writes: Re. “Hu and 420 others: Aussies on the beermat” (yesterday, item 4). Can someone, please, talk about the Stern Hu issue and Kevin Rudd without mentioning that Mr Rudd speaks Mandarin? Get over it, monolingual Australia, it doesn’t matter in a case like this. Australia and England must be the only two countries in the world where it is considered astonishing that someone born here speaks more than one language.

In all of Europe, English or German is common as a second language, the Canadians speak English and French, Spanish is common in the south of the US. In Wales, Ireland and Scotland they manage a Celtic language, and in New Zealand many people speak some Maori. Only here and England do we gasp in amazement if someone can say “hello” or “another beer, please” in more than one language.

Tony Clifford writes: The detention of Stern Hu and his three Rio Tinto colleagues has a very simple and very sinister explanation. In a single move the Chinese government, by removing Rio Tinto’s toughest and most experienced negotiator, has “taken over” the iron ore pricing process for this and future years. The implied threat to all other iron ore suppliers, puts China Inc. into the box seat in the current [and future?] negotiations.

I would suspect that Mr. Hu and his colleagues will be freed after China’s successful [price reduced] iron ore contracts are finalised.

Peter Rosier writes: Justin Templer’s silly attempt (yesterday, comments) to suggest that there is a real difference between Mr Hu and Mr Hicks on the basis of an apparent preference for mortgages on the one hand and mortars on the other operates on a truly false premise. There is no difference between the two — just as Mr Hu is entitled to be told with what he is charged and to be release if he is not charged, so it was with David Hicks.

If there is a difference it lies in the attitude of the government of the day — the present government doing what it can to assist Mr Hu — the options are limited — while the Howard government connived in the behaviour of the US, encouraging a detention which continued for five years, arguably a much greater sin than doing nothing. Thus it is that the Opposition are properly being portrayed as hypocrites. And the worst thing — they are doing it not because they have heartfelt concern for Mr Hu, but because they think it might win them votes.

Maureen Jones writes: Justin Templer attempted to explain the difference between Stern Hu and David Hicks but he still doesn’t get it. Let’s put this is very simple terms so even Justin will understand. They are both AUSTRALIAN CITIZENS Justin. End of story.

John Kotsopoulos writes: Sorry John Shailer (yesterday, comments) but it seems that a Howard era agreement is what is limiting consular access to Stern Hu.


Guy Rundle writes: M’esteemed colleague Jeff Sparrow has ably restated the arguments as to why the US would be well-disposed to the Honduran coup (yesterday, Item 14), but I remain unconvinced — simply because there is no hard evidence of support, and a great many reasons why it’s the last thing they would want. The endless restatement of the history of Honduran-American military ties, school of the Americas, etc, is unpersuasive — it dates from the Cold War, when Honduras was the key US client state keeping the region in line. A physical base was necessary for cross-border operations.

Now, the key interest of the US is to normalise relations with Latin America, to take as much oppositionality out of it as possible, thus politically isolating Chavez and making greater links with the people and powers of the moderate left states – Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, and (more leftish) Ecuador. Hence the renewal of diplomatic connections with Venezuela and Bolivia, and the dialing down of anti-Chavez rhetoric.

I would have thought that the US’s principal interest was in not creating a trade and investment vacuum in Latin America which would be filled by China – and that raising trust and normalcy in relations was paramount in this.

In that respect, an olde-style coup is the last thing they need. If concrete evidence they assisted appears, I’ll mea culpa. But letting something happen is not the same – at some point, that’s simple non-interference, which is actually what we want from the US, surely.

Climate change cage match (now with its own blog):

Tamas Calderwood writes: In response to Stephen Morris (yesterday, comments), I should point out that the “crisis” of global warming is predicated on one very important event: the world will WARM. As such, the first test of the hypothesis is to see if the world is in fact warming. The best way of doing this is to look at the temperature data.

It is commonly accepted that the 20 th century saw around 0.7C of warming. Since satellite observations began almost 31 years ago there has been a trend increase of around 0.38C (after a period of cooling from the 1940’s to the 1970’s). Temperatures peaked in 1998, have trended down since and last month world temperatures were bang on the 30 year average.

In the past 50 years the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has steadily increased by around 22% (from 0.000315 to 0.000385 of the atmosphere). Yet warming has been sporadic at best.

The NASA GISS temperature model referred to by Stephen is directed by James Hansen (recognize him?). Their temperature measurements incorporate surface station temperature records. These have been shown to be inaccurate. But even then, GISS shows no real warming since 2000.

I have never referred to the UK Hadley centre data. Also, The Argo program has returned good measurements since deployment began in earnest in the early 2000’s, although the target of 3000 buoys was reached only in 2006-2007. Their data show ocean cooling.

Stephen has not refuted the data showing the world is not warming. Thus, carrying on about the coming apocalypse from WARMING seems, shall we say, premature.

Ken Lambert writes: All Stephen Morris has proven in “going over” Tamas Calderwood in yesterday’s Crikey comments is that some of the observational temperature data show warming and some show cooling.

Warmists may “cherry pick” warming data, and sceptics may “cherry pick” cooling data.

The fact that both conflicting sets of data exist, and that Prof Karoly’s 20% of climate models predict cooling (but not just now), simply proves that the science and the data are not settled.

Which is the intelligent sceptic’s position.

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