Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Joshua Gans wrong-headed in the Age

Joshua Gans wrote in the Opinion pages of the Age yesterday: "Here is a curious fact, as an Australian, I cannot buy my own book." In fact, he can buy his own book and he's lucky to be able to buy it in two editions, the Australian edition published by New South or the US edition published by MIT Press. What he's concerned about is that he is unable to buy the Kindle edition for $12.59.

He believes that somehow the removal of the parallel import restrictions, or territorial copyright provisions, would make his book more available to the Austraian reader, and available on Kindle here in Australia What Mr Gans is not appreciating is that this removal would increase the likelihood of his book not being available at all or maybe just in an Australian edition, if he was lucky. The removal of the PIRs would mean there was less incentive for his Australian publisher to sell his rights overseas. It would also mean that his Australian publisher would have greater difficulty publishing his book at all. He could of course go direct to a US publisher but without the incentive of a successful Australian edition his chances would be much reduced of finding a US publisher.

Would his US publisher make the book available here? There's a good chance they would not. And if they did, it wouldn't receive the support an Australian based publisher would give it. There's a good chance as an Australian author Mr Gans would not find his book in his own land.

Amazon has chosen not to make the Kindle available here as yet. That's why he can't buy the Kindle version of his book not because 'publishers [intellectual monopoly holders] have not done the deals to make it possible'.


Joshua Gans said...

I'm afraid that this counter to my article has a number of incorrect facts.

First, the US edition of my book is not permitted to be sold in Australia in any form. That means even if Amazon were to offer the Kindle it would not include my book because there is an Australian publisher. This would be true for most local authors.

Second, copyright laws could ensure that wasn't the case and electronic editions could flow across borders.

Third, in my example, my book did not have any sales before a US publisher was found. Just think about it for a second: if this was the case US publishers would publish very few books at all.

Fourth, as a local author would you be happy to add $1 to the price of all books in the country so that you could receive an extra 5 cents for just your books sold? That is the main issue here.

Andrew's black dog blog said...

Thank you for your rapid reply.

The US edition of your book may be purchased by any consumer other online or as a special order from any bookshop.

I don't think Amazon has as yet expressed an interest in buying Australian rights. Do Amazon have a policy of not dealing with Australian publishers? If they approached black dog we'd be happy to sell digital rights (as I think most Australian publishers would be). But it is a moot point since Amazon has not made the Kindle available in Australia.

I'm not clear on your second, third and fourth points, and I'd appreciate an expansion.

Yes copyright laws could ensure there was no impediment to electronic editions flowing across borders. Copyright laws don't stop electronic editions flowing across borders, subject to the interest from the electronic publisher and the deal being done.

With regards to your third point, overseas Publishers look to publish authors from there own markets first. (A book with a "local" author is easier to promote, for one thing.) Usually publishers overseas are looking for a successful track record before buying, especially awards - as we do when we're buying in.

Fourthly I am happy for books to be properly priced and for all publishers to earn a reasonable return, but I'm not convinced that books are more expensive here overall because of PIRs. I think the price of books here reflects the small market spread over a large continent.

I was wondering what you thought of the United States's vigorous defence of its own territorial copyright?

Joshua Gans said...

On electronic rights for the Australian edition, that is a combination of things including the fact that Amazon aren't here and that the Australian publisher hasn't really engaged in electronic books. But that latter bit would be cleared up if they faced competition.

On point 2, Amazon refuse to sell to non US residents because they do not have the rights to sell beyond the US. So this is a publisher issue. If copyright laws did not allow territorial restrictions like that then there would be no constraint on Amazon. The same thing prevented iTunes from selling in Australia for many years and still prevents it in many countries. So on US territorial restrictions, I am against them. Put simply, I want information and ideas to be freely tradable so that they sell for the same price around the world.

On 3, I acknowledge that it is tough for Australians to get international publishers on board. I guess my belief is that electronic publishing could really open that up.

On 4, you say there is no real price effect from PIR. Then what is the problem removing them. What good do they do you?

Andrew's black dog blog said...

Amazon has chosen to buy the rights for the US but have not chosen to buy the rights for any where - which if it made business sense to them they could do.

My point about US territorial copyright is that if I publish a book here, and if they were to sell to me the digital rights for Australia, the Australian edition is not permitted to be sold in the US.

It's an interesting point about iTunes.

I don't believe freely tradeable means the best communication of ideas. People may be able to access the information but it won't be brought to their attention in the most appropriate package. They won't know about it and it won't be in the form that they can most conveniently use.

The repeal of the PIRs won't affect the price but will affect who gets the greater proportion of the profits: Australian publishers and authors; or overseas publishers, who will pay a lesser amount (an export royalty) to authors.

Andrew's black dog blog said...

An addition: Australian publishers have engaged in electronic books. There are a number of ebook aggregators that are Australian based. But the Australian consumer has yet to engage in a profitably sustainable way, perhaps, in part, because the US corporations haven't made the ebook devices readily available here.

m_g_bauer said...

I don't know any Australian author who supports parallel imports.

I wouldn't want the American editions of my books available/dumped in Australia. It would only undermine my Australian publisher's sales and profits and they are the ones who have spent the time, money and human resources to get my books ready for publishing in the first place. Australian publishers would be less likely to take the risk of developing new Australian writers if PIR are removed.

I am also against the American edition of my books being for sale here because I earn lower royalties on overseas editions and they have also had Australia spelling and cultural references removed from them.

As for the comparison of book prices here and overseas - the Australian Productivity Commission said the removal of PIR wouldn't guarantee lower book prices and would have 'little or no' effect on literarcy rates.

They also said that the gap between Australian book prices and overseas prices varied greatly and could even be reversed (ie ours being chaeper than o/s) depending on fluctuations in the Australian dollar.

Blithe said...

I'm curious about Joshua's insistence that "Amazon refuse to sell to non US residents because they do not have the rights to sell beyond the US." I regularly purchase books from Amazon and other overseas online suppliers. I have also pre-ordered US published books through local bookstores.

Or is he/are you speaking at the level above that of the individual consumer?

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Recently I compared an Australian children's picture book with its recently released American version (it was published in Australia first) - and it wasn't the spelling that horrified me (after all it was the US version), it was the changes made to the actual characters, the plot and the sentence structure - changes that made this brilliant, subtle, gorgeous story (and one easily understood by Australian children) into a bland, superficial and lollypop sweet offering.
It was as though the story had been dumbed-down to suit the market. This is a scary thought and if I was an American parent I'd be very concerned.
If the restrictions on PI laws are lifted this book could be imported and sold in this country in preference to the Aust version. I and many other authors, parents, teachers and librarians will fight tooth and nail to stop the rot happening here.

Mike said...

Let's see the Americans go first and drop restrictions on copyright. All countries have territorial copyright restrictions.