Monday, July 20, 2009

2nd Draft Joy - plus, off topic: Parallel Importation Folly

I am feeling pretty good having just handed in the first 20 chapters of the 2nd draft of Book 3 (with about 7 or so to go) to my editor, Celia, here in Oz. This is a tunnel after all, not the ceaseless dark of endless night I feared. Phew! I was beginning to wonder there...

I am also feeling rather bemused because here in Australia our government is contemplating the abolition of Parallel Importation Restrictions in our country. This might appear as a good thing, yes? 'Restriction' is a bad word - we should get rid of 'restrictions', it sounds like they are impinging on our 'freedom'.

Yet the purpose of Parallel Importation Restrictions (and they exist in the UK and US as well) is to provide a frame work by which an author can make income from the licencing of the copyright of their story within the three major English speaking markets. So these 'restrictions' actually create clear boundaries by which the publishers in each country knows how to behave towards both authors and the others publishers' markets, and an author themselves has chance to licence their copyright to its fullest potential. So these 'restrictions' actually provide clarity and strangely, a kind of 'freedom'.

The oft-stated benefit of their removal here will be to reduce the price of books by opening our market to cheaper foreign editions. Its real effect, I am afraid, will be to seriously harm Australian authors' ability to make a living from their trade and diminish their access to a viable local publishing industry... and is unlikely to do much to revive people's interest in books, for it is interest in reading itself in this age of easy entertainment that is the problem, not the price of the material to be read.

Those lobbying for such a law are the Mr Bigs (K-mart, Target, Big-W, Coles & Dymocks, styling themselves the Coalition for Cheaper Books) seeking cheaper books, telling us with such genuine pleading concern for we the reading public that their main aim is literacy. They say that cheaper books will improve reading as more people can afford to buy them. (When corporations pretend care for people I see red flags going up all over the place.) What I hate most about this line of argument is that it seems such a cynical play for the higher moral ground, as if these corporations genuinely care for you and yours and need to defend your rights to a literate future. Shareholders and profit margins are their domains, don't be fooled folks.

What-is-more, it is not even true for two reasons, a/ it is unlikely that the buying public will see much bar a token reduction in book prices as the Mr Bigs simply pocket the increased difference, & b/they are called libraries, been around for a while now and books there are FREE there.

What I resent about all this is why it is I who should subsidise the bookselling industry here, if Amazon can figure a way to distribute books so cheaply, why can't our local sellers do the same? Industry reform seems a better option. It is not the authors' fault for bad business models in other parts of this whole book thing.

If there were no Parallel Importation Restrictions in place 6 years ago (2003) when I first dropped my notebook in front of Dyan Blacklock, my publisher and discoverer, there is little likelihood she would have given me the opportunity to write she did. She would have been unwilling to risk making Monster-Blood Tattoo happen only for it to be taken up by a foreign publisher and have those overseas editions being sold back here into Oz in direct competition with the Australian one.

Bizarre, huh... But that is what our government is contemplating.

The very real problem posed for me (and every other author potential or realised in this country) is if Parallel Importation is allowed to occur here in Australia, do I a/go with overseas publishers and forgo an Australian edition OR b/refuse to publish anywhere else but Australia in support of the local industry. Either way I lose income and someone out there in one country or another will find it hard to get copies of my books.

Far out! I would just like to write books and sell them fairly, you bureaucratical glaucologues (see Explicarium Book 2) - enough with the potential moral dilemmas already!

As you can see I am a tad worked up about this; why would I not be? My livelihood is at stake here.

But then again, why should I hope to make a living from this writing thing anyway? After all, that 'creativity' stuff is really just for children and grant-sponging hippie no-hopers isn't it? Surely I should grow up, cut my hair and get myself a real job...

An excellent article I have read on the matter is by James Bradley over at City of Tongues. (The comments are worthy reading, allowing him to expand his point)

It is important to note that neither the US or UK have any intention of abolishing their parallel importation legislation. I do not think the Australian publishing market could survive long as anything more than a discount warehouse for foreign importers under such an onslaught (and I am not sure the Coalition for Cheaper Books really cares if such a thing occurs - indeed, I have this suspicion it might actually play into their careful economic schedules).

So, regardless of my own left-wing opinions on corporations, if you value that someone like me (and you too, working away on your own masterpiece) can be given a chance to get their passion published and to make a living from that passion here in Australia; if you hold dear the existence and breadth of subject matter of your local independent Australian bookseller, then please, let your voice be heard (prayers, letters, blogs - you name it).
Here is a link to guidelines for writing letters to MPs on this issue (yes it is that serious) and their addresses at SAVINGAUSSIEBOOKS.

Here is an excellent article about the fiscal issues behind the current issue at SAVINGAUSSIEBOOKS.

Here is the website for the Australian Society of Authors (bless their cotton socks) that has many links to explore the issue further.

BTW, even folks in the UK (and Canada too) think it is a foolish idea.

Most of these links have been taken from SAVINGAUSSIEBOOKS, so I recommend you head on over there an explore a little further - and by all means, ask me more. Apologies if I have not made an ounce of sense.

23 comments:

Alyosha said...

And what, Master Cornish, do you think about Amazon.com's sales via the Kindle? I've read concerns that - even with the lower price per book - the distributor makes a killing because the distribution is essentially free, but the author's income, which is calculated as a percent of sales price, takes a beating.

P.S. Concerning your options if the restrictions are lifted in Australia, I (selfishly) wouldn't mind if your books were published first in the U.S.

Jodi said...

I understand where you're coming from as an author, but as a reader I find it difficult to agree. I resent, totally, the absolute rip off price that we're forced to pay here for books. I adore reading...if I had my way, I would spend my entire life reading! But it's getting to the point where I can't afford to go and buy a new book every time the whim might strike me. I worked for a regional newspaper - my whole department was made redundant, so disposable income is not high at the moment. Libraries are great (I find I'm there a lot), but if you're hanging for a new book, one in a series, whatever, you're waiting an awfully long time for it to hit the shelves. And what about second hand books? It's still cheaper to buy a second hand book in the US and get it freighted to Australia than to buy it second hand in this country! What the? I understand, to some extent, where you're coming from on this, but we get price gouged on so many things here in comparison to the rest of the world, books included, and it leaves you always asking why.

BTW, love the books...been reading them with my 12 year old son and he's dying for the third book to come out soon. Well done!

Evan Blanton, Californian said...

libraries and used books. i think it's selfish to play a part in denying an author his due and proper simply because you're so impatient you have to line up at midnight release day to snap up your cheap imported copy. just wait a week or two. take a walk. get some fresh air and exercise on your way to your local library. wait for used copies to show up on amazon. i don't really buy new books anymore because of the cost, and if it hurts the author, i'll continue to not buy them new.

think about it, use your logic. if an author can't make a reasonable living writing, you won't have a new book to save money on in the first place.

not trying to come across so moralistic, but... the way i see it, there it is.

i'm tired of businessmen and suits screwing over artists so they can make even MORE money off of their work.

*also, Mr. Cornish, i had a few questions for you regarding inspiration and what steps you took in the first years of creating the HC. i'm trying to make my own world i can write about eventually, but i'm starting with theme and it's hard to go from there... just wondering if i could pick your brain a bit? is there a good email address to send these questions, too? thank you, sir!

D.M. Cornish said...

It seems to me Jodi that it's the "middle man" who appears to get away scott free in this scenario (and usually many others).

"They" seemed determined to squeeze both ends of the book industry, to either make the reader pay (high book prices) or the author (reduced income). I have an image of someone in the middle of us (me trying to get my books to you and you trying to buy them) looking nonchalantly skywards and creaming the profit, lecturing us on how ungrateful we are. (The Kindle may well be an excellent example of this indeed, Alyosha - though I do not want to jerk the knee too quickly...)

Whilst I too think books should be cheaper (as an avid reader how could I not!), the option currently given simply forces the author to take less so those in the middle can keep on with their greed and does not really address the issue, which dare I posit might need to be a good old bit of industry reform, especially in distribution and the margins publishers are expected to achieve by their corporate overloards. But I am certain it is not that easy either... Never is, is it.

Nor does it help that despite our relative high living standards, we are a tiny population thinly spread over a big land and to punch above this weight as we do is probably where increased costs and expense come. (Just wondering here, just shooting the breeze)

So currently you, the Australian reader gets "price gouged" (great term); what is being proposed is that I, the Australian author gets the gouge instead so that the reader saves, and I am hoping you'll agree that this is not good either - especially when such a scenario may well mean that as much as you might be hanging for a new book or the next in the series, it may not be available here in Oz anymore except through mail order.

Welcome to the downside of globalisation, I say.

D.M. Cornish said...

Yes indeed, Evan (I see we commented simultaneously!) send to

dmcornish@halfcontinent.com

You make a pertinent point when you say, "if an author can't make a reasonable living writing, you won't have a new book to save money on in the first place."

Pretty much exactly.

Why do authors OR readers have to get the price gouge?! Problem is, even if the industry in the middle reformed it would only be by sacking people NEVER the reduction in profit expectation.

Has anyone actually stopped to realise that while corporatism and the search for endless (usually shareholder driven) profit increase seems currently to work, it will only lead (and indeed already is leading) to fewer middle class jobs (ie: retrenchment due to "cut backs") and the squeezing of both buyer and supplier (I am thinking of the grocery/supermarket situation here too).

Ah, rant rant rant. I shuold stop now before my political tendencies really start to show.

Emma Nicole Reinmuth said...

Well, if I really want to by a book by a fellow Australian, I'm willing to pay full price (as in, no second hand, just because it's cheaper). For all others there's always the News Agents. $5.95 each or 3 for $14.95. I get some of the best books from there, and also warehouses - straight from the distributor, saving me money by avoiding the extra profit that would be made by Stores.

Unfortunately I can see how this abolition may cause some chaos for such places...

I for one, support Australian Authors, and if I have to make direct donations to keep them alive then so be it (of course, hat would mean I would have to get myself a real job).

Jodi said...

:) I'm so hoping this doesn't turn into a flame war!

Just for the record, I think authors deserve all the compensation they get and then some. I certainly don't believe they should not reap the rewards of their prodigious output which we all get to enjoy.

It did actually make me stop and think about who is making the money out of it all.

And, Evan, I don't line up at midnight for anything! Book, computer, iPhone or otherwise! I don't mind waiting, I'd be happy for our local library to get stuff in within a couple of weeks, but it doesn't happen! A case in point - Roberto Bolano's '2666'. I've been waiting for months and months for it to be available at our local library. I haven't even seen it in our local book stores and I am only aware of it from reading the NY Times book review. It is finally in, so I need to stop complaining now! (Relevance? Um, it's not as simple as just wandering down the street to pick up a cheap import.)

Agreed about the businessmen screwing over the artists.

Damien B said...

I am a 'writer'.
I want to be an 'author'.
Do I want to travel a path already fraught with potential/probable failure - only to be offered a contract for $2 - as this is all the publisher can afford in this 'current market'...?

I've said before how inspirational DM's story is and how MBT came about (and I'll continue to tell anyone who'll listen) - but when you hear only that it is all becoming harder STILL, it makes you pause and ponder that next draft...

Scribe said...

Thanks for highlighting this, DM.
As you and many of your readers will know, trying to get published is a pretty tough business. There’s no shortage of discouragement, obstacles, hoops to jump through, and dice to roll. All the while, you have no way of knowing if all this blood, sweat and tears will ever lead to anything more than a dusty wad of A4 paper in a box under the bed. For me, I take hope in the thought that, one day, a publisher might *just* be willing to take a risk on me. Perhaps that’s a pipe-dream, but, if this change goes through, a dream is all it will ever be. I really hope that everyone who sees the harm this proposal will cause will stand up and make as much noise as possible.

D.M. Cornish said...

I think what you display so well Jodi is that readers and authors are viewed as the dispensible part of this equation. It might seem strange that it should be this way but I have a sense that both of us are in some way seen simply as a necessary annoyance to the powers between us.

Jodi said...

I'm happy to be a "necessary annoyance"!

And wouldn't you think that readers and authors would be THE most necessary part of the equation? Without either party there is no book and no industry and no money. It's funny how the corporatisation of industries allows them to forget the reasons for their very existence.

Oh well, if nothing else you've definitely convinced me to change my stance on this particular issue. Next time Dymocks does their big (e)mail out to get people to side with them I'll send them a link to this blog instead!

Still, cheaper books...my ultimate dream! :)

me said...

I really don't mind too much about the current price I pay for books. I think it's ($24.95 for a new paperback in the local independent book seller's) a reasonable cost for something I can enjoy over & over again for hours at a stretch. And I'm particularly happy to pay for something like the MBT hardcover editions - they're truly well put-together and a pleasure just to hold & look at (they also smell good - is this a weird thing to notice?).

I just wish more of the money I paid went where I wanted it to go (ie. into the artist's pocket).

Anna said...

Here in Sweden the government took away the book-tax a couple of years ago, claiming that it would make the books cheaper. Sure the first year was nice but now the prices are like they were before. If you are buying a new book you can pay from 100 SKR up to 400 SKR.
One horror example is an internet-bookstore demanding 800 (!) SKR for a book I needed for my studies. Well, I didn´t buy that one, I can tell you.
I don´t mind buying a book or two full price, but if you are a bookeater like me, you can´t always buy new books in the store.

Before you get my post wrong I want to say that I´m all for the author´s rights to be able to make a living of their work.

D.M. Cornish said...

Have not got you wrong, Anna, you make an excellent and valid point. It is not hard to extrapelate (sp?) this evidence to Oz; IF Parallel Importation Restrictions are removed here sure, there will be cheeper books for about a year or so (as in Sweden) then you watch, they'll creep and creep and be just as much as ever before with tha same old excuses corporation blah us with as always.

John said...

The prices of books won't change. If books are being imported from overseas the cost to import them is gonna be tacked on to the book's price. The reason that the kindle fairs so well is that they removed the costs of making and shipping the books. Digital is gonna be newest way to distribute books. Still nothing beats the feel of the page in your hand. In the future book will start to become how they used to be when they were rare. Painstakingly made with great detail. It's an eventuality.

Anna said...

I don´t think digital books will take over the real ones. They said the same when internet came and the e-books, when they claimed that it would be a paperless society. The real book will outlive us all. And thank God for that!
It´s boring to sit and watch a screen to read a book. I´ve tried with S Meyer´s 5th book (that partial one which is on her website) but it grew boring. The best way to read a book is to lie down, have something nice to chew on and slowly sink into the bookworld, closing your mind of surrounding sounds.

Baedeker said...

Anna I hope your right I love reading from an actual book. But have you seen the Amazon Kindle, it really is incredible it feels like I'm reading from an actual book. In the future I think more people will have book readers like the kindle, it's something that will probably be massed produced then given to kids in school so they don't have to carry a 50 lbs backpack filled with textbooks around. I don't think paperbacks will ever go out of style. I just think hardcover books will be rendered obsolete.

ENR said...

On the subject of books going completely digital, there is actually a machine in practice (currently in say... third prototype) that is like a mini printing press for out of print books that have been stored digitally. You simply search the book, watch it be printed, bound and covered as a paperback and voila! It falls out in a basket at the bottom. I've seen it work. Pretty funky.

What I found most interesting however is that all of the books made with the machine will be priced simply by pages it had to print, and because it makes available out-of-print books in effect Authors will be able to earn from their publications even far after their book went out of print. Not to mention if the machine is purchased by Australia, the profit goes to australian businesses (provided they've legitimised their usage of the machine's database of text).

They say it'll be at least five years before we see the machine in popular use because there's the issue of solving the 'print jam' issue present in any printer, large or small.

D.M. Cornish said...

Sounds a tad interesting ENR, sign me up for one...

D.M. Cornish said...

Reading these recent comments I have a fear that the book is already becoming a luxury item (one of our fellow MBT'ers here already has to think twice about buying a new tome, as do I in a 'down' period).

Let us hope that you are right, Baedecker, that at least paperbacks will still be with us when finally we become a digital society. I am just thankful to the Lord for getting a chance to put our MBT just as I have here in Oz, all gorgeous and touchable and sniffable.

monday said...

I shall no longer whine about how expensive books are--or if I do, it won't be to their authors.
Pah. Big Bad Businesses sounds like such a cliche, but it is terribly true.
This prospect is awful, awful, awful.
[being an american citizen working overseas, there's not much I can do but pray, Mr Cornish.]

***
Every time the subject of digital or electronic books comes up, I immediately dissolve into a puddle of paranoia, having b-movie visions about worldwide apocalytic-scale disasters wherein all non-tangible civilzation and information is forever destroyed by the accidental press of a button. shudder. I personally like to feel a book in my hand and know that it isn't going anywhere unless I lose it myself. Anything else just seems a little too...well, unreal. Perhaps I'm old-fashioned.

ben said...

Venerable Mr Cornish, I agree with you 100%, an excellent post. If this legislation gets through it'll be catastrophic for Australian authors, and us readers will also suffer as a result. Fortunately there is still a lot of opposition to the proposal, the other day I read that the Victorian premier John Brumby said that "It would be an act of economic and cultural vandalism."

Hopefully the restrictions stay in place. Good luck

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Venerable Mr Cornish indeed, would you allow us to link our site SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS to your good self (in particular this post)?
Thanks
Sheryl Gwyther - on behalf of the campaigning mob at http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com