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Jul 16, 2009

Parallel importation: devilish Dymocks detail

Dymocks have led the charge to abolish the parallel import restrictions. But would this really make their books cheaper? asks Michael James.


Dymocks have led the charge to abolish the PIR, and their CEO often claims that his Hong Kong shops prove the point. The table below summarises the earlier data and incorporates prices from Dymock’s Harbour Centre Hong Kong store. Only seven of the top ten are available (Why isn’t Chris Tsiolkos published overseas? Why are Dymocks not promoting this Australian author in Hong Kong?).

It is true that their HK prices, even if adjusted for a notional Australian GST to make the comparison fair, are always cheaper than Dymocks Australia. But then Dymocks is rarely the cheapest in Australia. As the totals at the bottom of the table reveal, for the top ten Dymocks is $61.27 more than the lowest in Australia (in a quick survey of Brisbane CBD stores; possibly there are even cheaper sources out there) and about $32 (after GST adjustment) than its own store in Hong Kong. But the Hong Kong prices are only $3.26 less expensive than the Australian lowest prices, and actually $11.52 more expensive after adjustment for GST.

As many of the articles and comments written the past few days on this subject attest, the most important argument, except for economic rationalists, is not cost per se. Even the PC report says, it is really about “cultural externalities” — ie. whether we want to have an Australian publishing industry, support Australian authors and local independent bookstores (versus a Dymocks or BigW that brings in remaindered books from the US market cheating authors and publishers of their royalties, but giving these booksellers bigger profit margins and Bob Carr his bonus).

However, let’s at least begin with getting the facts straight. Dymocks HK is only cheaper if you avoid GST and bring them home yourself, and manage to stay under luggage weight limits. It can also be noted that if one adjusts for GST, Amazon has only one book (bought singly) that remains cheaper than the lowest Australian price while Book Depository has four (only three have >$5 differential).

Notes to table: Colour code: bright-green=lowest price; light-green=next lowest or broadly comparable.


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12 thoughts on “Parallel importation: devilish Dymocks detail

  1. michael james

    Sorry mate, I listened to the same special interest pleading and threats of cultural armageddon when the music import rort was turned off.

    The world did not end, Australian music continues to thrive, CDs got significantly cheaper and it seems everyone was a winner (except the special interest pleaders).

    I expect the same to happen with books.

  2. David Sanderson

    This author’s relies on emotive attacks and then yet more emotive attacks and abuse when he is unable to rationally defend his position. For evidence see the discussion following his last article (linked to above).

  3. michael james

    I will point out that the first comment is from reader Michael James, not the author of this article Michael James.

  4. David Sanderson

    Note also that in this article he is not carrying-on about exchange rates and bank overseas transaction fees (a big gripe in his last article) because I demonstrated that these were non-existent problems when buying through Amazon. ALL Australian purchasers can pay in Australian dollars to Amazon’s local entity.

    However, this ‘scientist’ was unable to admit that he had made basic factual errors and instead resorted to a feeble trickle of emotive abuse.

  5. Michael James

    OK, David Sanderson, I unreservedly apologize for making a bit of fun of one of your posts. Let us stop this nonsense–mostly to save other readers. But for the record I certainly made no factual error. In fact yesterday I gave you the exact AUD amount of my Amazon order of 10 days ago, noting that there was in fact an additional $12.62 extra charge on an approx. $340 order (that I cannot tell what it is from internet Visa card) compared to the Amazon screen AUD dollar amount. If you want to give documented counter-examples that would be welcome but please no more sniping.
    –err. the real Michael R. James (Brisbane, scientist)

  6. David Sanderson

    Michael James, if your idea of a “bit of fun” is to call me a “lazy blogger” and an “ONLINE CHEAPSKATE” then you really need to get out more. I won’t recount your abuse of other contributors because I think it is already pretty clear how juvenile your responses are.

    The point still remains, if you charged your Amazon transaction in Australian dollars, and not in American dollars as you obviously did, then there are no forex or any other charges from your bank (or Amazon) at all. I have made many purchases from Amazon and have always only been charged the Australian dollar price shown on the screen and not a cent more.

    Moreover, there is an air of pointlessness about your articles. You are obviously, in your own shouting terms, a $340 ONLINE CHEAPSKATE yourself and yet you accuse others of trying to create a world where there is nothing but nothing but “the golden arches of American burger chains, or Woolies and Coles with wall-to-wall Stephanie Meyer”.

    You have also accused others, who you oddly demean as “Gen X or Y”, of being “really happy to sacrifice Australian authors, publishers and bookshops” without ever answering my challenge to explain how high local prices help local bookshops to be more competitive against their overseas online competitors. Perhaps you don’t try to defend this proposition because it is so obviously nonsensical.

    So, this is not “sniping”, Michael . This is a challenge to engage in honest debate. A challenge you have so far failed to meet.

  7. Santo Calabrese

    The argument that Australia will be flooded with remaindered copies of books begs the question as to who supplies the remaindered copies. I presume that unsold stock is returned to the original publishers. Why don’t the publishers pulp the returned books instead of offloading them to these so called remainder barns? The supply of remaindered books could be eliminated if the publishers were sincere in their concern for their authors.

    Also, why are there so many unsold copies of books that they pose such a problem? Cannot the publishers do better with their print runs?
    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?

    Rob Johnston makes a valid point with his comment, or are royalties not paid on remaindered copies ?

    It would seem that authors need to negotiate better deals with their publishers after reading about Mem Fox’s deal with her publisher. It would seem the publishing houses are sc**wing both the authors and the readers.

  8. Ben Aveling

    @Santo: Royalties are not paid on remaindered copies. Printing is a bit of a guessing game. Print too many, and you have to remainder some. Don’t print enough, and you sell out. Neither is good, but one or the other is pretty much inevitable. Perhaps if they had been able to import them into Australia without remaindering them first then they wouldn’t have remaindered them…

    Given what Maloney wrote, I assume that he gets a different rate from his American publisher. If so, it makes sense for him to trade-off a few less foreign sales for a few more local sales.

    PS. I’m not quite sure what the point of this article is, if foreign books aren’t cheaper, then what is the threat?

  9. wjlu

    I don’t really know what the author is talking about. It is absurd to argue aginst the FACT that Amazon isn’t generally much cheaper than prices in Australia. I have been buying books from Amazon for years, on average for a few hundred dollars a year. The savings are substantial, taking into account of exchange rate and postage. Admittedly I mostly buy non-fictions. To give you one typical and illustrative example: Ian Pilmer’s Haven and Earth, Amazon price USD13.97, Fishpond A$34.91, Dymocks A$39.95 (RRP). Where is the argument?

  10. Santo Calabrese

    Thanks Ben, that clears up royalties on remainders.The point still remains that publishers seem to win on all points. They pay authors what appear to be low royalties, yet they can then remainder(sell) print overuns and pay no royalties,and control the different market or territories that the various editions can be sold.

  11. David Sanderson

    These articles have been a waste of time except that the first did inadvertently point me to the Book Depository. It’s free freight to almost anywhere in the world is unbeatable and their book prices are pretty good. Ordered from there this morning and very pleased with the price. Unless Amazon changes its freight cost the Depository will almost always be cheaper.

  12. Michael James

    Yes Ben, that is a useful clarification. I expanded on the same issue (the huge US market whose remainders are probably larger than the entire Australia primary market) see my Comment (11.40am) to Shane Maloney yesterday. But Australian authors should not have to worry about the US market in this way (if PIR is abolished) because very few Aus. authors make a living from selling books in Australia; they simply must look to the UK and US for their vast markets.

    But to make a final response to some of the other comments, I am at serious risk of offending again, because several readers have not kept up with the discussion–which admittedly has been spread over about half a dozen articles.

    My first article dealt in explicit detail (and remarkably I managed to get Crikey to print two data tables! Compare with the lazy and misleading effort by the Australian the day after my article.) From the perspective of this discussion books fall into about three broad categories: 1) Australian authors 2) others published in Australia under the PIR (many, maybe all, of the rest on the Top Ten list) and 3) books not covered by PIR (this also includes what could be a 4th category: many specialist and older books): So my second table covered the last set, and yes DS, WJLU and others, I was clear in my article that those are what I buy off Amazon. Only 3 were ever seen on Australian retailers shelves and the cost of those 3 and the other 7 (ordering from A&R) was hugely more expensive than Amazon. BUT people, that has nothing to do with this whole argument about PIR and damage to Australian authors and publishing. (Please reread the original article if it is still not clear.)

    Final point (and stand by for “robust” discussion): when I used those mildly pejorative terms DS so objects to, well unfortunately we have another perfect example in WJLU (10.37pm). The Plimer book, you say is USD 13.95 at Amazon and A$39.95 at Dymocks; well guess what, that Amazon price turns into A$30.43 when you do the currency exchange, add the shipping ($6.34) and the per-order charge ($6.34) . (For a fair comparison, ie. fair to Aus. booksellers, you could add GST and get A$33.48.) OK, it is still $9.52 (or $6.47 for the fairer comparison) less. But for a big book buyer like me, I frequently get 20%off (=A$31.98) and sometimes 30%off deals from Borders (I got a Borders 20%off coupon by email this morning); I routinely get something from the Dymock’s loyalty card. So actually I can already get it at almost the same price as Amazon ($31.97. I am not going to buy Amazon to save $1.55). And no doubt the book will come down in price soon. Second, as many other readers and comments (on the other Crikey articles including mine) note, I am not going to undermine a great Australian industry (publishers, authors, smaller booksellers) for a few measly dollars, because it is one of our few successes in the intellectual area (as opposed to digging stuff out of the ground). Some people have said they probably wouldn’t do that for even up to $10, but actually as all my tables show–for THIS class of book–it is rarely that big a differential. It is a free choice we can all make–but please at least base your decisions on the reality.
    One final, final point: Amazon is the largest bookseller on the planet so obviously they can underprice everyone, including American bookstores–whose RRP is A$27.89 Still cheaper than their Australian counterparts but shipping books to Australia is not cheap and using Amazon’s costs that would be A$44.63. So maybe Australian publishers and booksellers are not ripping us off so outrageously.

    MRJ, Brisbane.

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