I am so fucking pissed off right now, and I’ve spent the last couple of days writing polite and considered letters, so here is my chance to say what I really think.
Yesterday, the productivity commission, in its infinite bullheaded ignorance, recommended lifting the restrictions on parallel importation that protect the Australian publishing industry. What does that mean in simple terms? Well, if an edition of one of my books comes out at the same time in the US, and the US copy is a nasty cheap version with no “u”s in the word “colour”, bookstores over here are free to import the nasty cheap version instead of selling the Australian (correctly spelled) version. The profit will leave the country and go to a US publisher, I will be paid less because (1) it’s a cheap version and (2) US publishers offer lower royalty rates.
The Australian publishing industry is a beautiful, yet delicately balanced eco-system. It operates on the slimmest of margins, and once those margins disappear, the whole shebang is put at risk. Where do they get the money to pay the printers, the sales reps, the transport workers, and so on and so on? Who’s going to lose their jobs first? (Hint: it’s the writers, both published and yet-to-be published. Imagine the voices we might never hear). What is now a thriving and wonderful business will become a cottage industry: publishers will become glorified distributors for overseas product. Oh, by the way, the US and the UK are smart enough NOT to have an open market. But they’re going to totally love ours; they will be in here like fucking wolves.
The most vociferous supporters of this unholy mess are, of course, the ugly greedy corporations. Dymocks, for example, who bang on about how it’s going to make books “cheaper for everyone”. Well they are big fat fucking liars, because they could make books “cheaper for everyone” if they immediately stopped the practice of charging more than the recommended retail price for books whenever they fancied. Do not listen to them: they are not interested in promoting literacy, they are interested in putting gold flakes in their water coolers.
One of the things that pisses me off the most is the way that authors are being frowned upon for talking about how the changes will affect their incomes. That hoary old romantic chestnut about real art not concerning itself with commerce gets an airing. “Artists aren’t supposed to want money!” (blanches). Well, you can’t buy your groceries at Coles with artistic integrity. Doesn’t fucking work. Tried it. Why shouldn’t I care if I lose money? Should everybody who likes their job be happy just to do it for free?
Yesterday The Australian hauled me out of my office to take my photo looking cranky in an independent bookshop and interviewed me about what I thought, for today’s paper. I’m not in today’s paper, and nor is my photo. There is a photo of a teenager with gigantic tits (in a Dymocks: they’re getting shitloads of free advertising this week) who is happy that she will be able to buy cheap books now. She can’t even vote. Why did I waste my fucking time and breath? The media likes the issue because it has two very clearly opposed sides and they’re getting top page-filling mileage out of it. They don’t give a fuck who wins (tits may win), cos they’re still going to have jobs when the publishing industry shrivels up.
And plenty of journos are bitter, scorned, unpublished novelists anyway. Just saying.
So the productivity commission suggests to offset any loss of income for writers (note: by saying this they show that they do believe writers will lose income) the government should look at increasing funding for writers. I’m sorry, but that’s just a leeetle too vague for my liking. Does that mean the government, rather than the readers, are going to decide what constitutes suitable Australian literature? Am I the only person who can see the looming disaster here? “We asked around at some universities and have decided on more contemporaryrealistliteraryfiction for everyone!” “Excuse me, Mr Government, can I have some money for my book with dragons in it?” “Dragons!” (blanches AND faints).
If you want to do something, write to Peter Garrett. Write to the PM. Write to your local member. It still has to get through parliament. Write them letters, not emails. And shop at independent bookstores. Give Dymocks a big swerve. Google the issue. Mark Seymour did a great article on it, comparing it to the nightmare that was the deregulation of the music industry.
And bring on the digital revolution.