by Don Groves
Authors, book retailers and publishers have rallied to celebrate Australian books and bookshops in the face of Productivity Commission proposals which they believe will weaken copyright laws.
Saturday August 13 has been proclaimed National Bookshop Day, marked by a series of events including a panel discussion on plans to abolish the parallel importation rules.
#SaveOzStories, a collection of writings by some of Australia’s most prominent authors including Richard Flanagan, Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, Matthew Reilly, Geraldine Brooks, Michael Robotham, Andy Griffiths, Christos Tsiolkas and Frank Moorhouse, has been released and copies of the book, a clarion call to Australians to defend writers and writing, are available free at all independent bookstores.
Bookshops and book sales are flourishing despite former Small Business Minister Nick Sherry’s prediction in 2011 that ‘in five years, other than a few specialty bookshops in capital cities, you will not see a bookstore. They will cease to exist.’
More than a third of all bookshops in Australia are independently-owned small businesses. Australia has the largest number of independent bookshops in the English-speaking world and many are expanding and opening new locations.
Book sales at independent bookshops increased by more than 6% in the past year and in the past five years’ children’s book sales grew from 25% to more than 32% of total sales. The book industry employs more than 20,000 people with around 10,000 in book retail.
Yet the Productivity Commission's draft report into Australia's Intellectual Property arrangements made a number of sweeping recommendations to change Australian copyright law. The Australian book industry has united in opposition to the proposals which include the abolition of parallel importation rules and replacing the current system of Fair Dealing exceptions with a US-style Fair Use principle.
HarperCollins Australia's chief executive officer, James Kellow, has previously warned that return-to-sale agreements, allowing booksellers to take risks on new titles and authors and receive a credit on unsold books, would likely disappear under the proposed system and that contraction of the industry would almost certainly follow the axing of import restrictions.
During the Productivity Commission hearings in June, authors Nikki Gemmell and Michael Robothom reminded the commissioners about the need to protect Australia’s cultural identity, telling them that “books cannot be treated as commodities, like used cars or sweatshop T-shirts”.