Books: Expensive or Affordable?
Red Group launched the most comprehensive eBook platform yet in Australia along with probably the cheapest eReading device and what was the major talking point in the media about books? Price. It started with Christopher Zinn from Choice and continued on ABC radio. The common theme being eBooks are here, good, because books in Australia are too expensive. This ignored the fact that the Australian Dollar was in freefall and also continued to ignore the issues of freight and GST as contributing factors to the cost of books in this country.
Personally I think comparing Australian and US book prices is like comparing the price of apples at the supermarket with oranges. They’re both fruit but there are a number of different variables that make up the price per kilo which change constantly.
In the age of the internet books exist in a global market but this does not mean Australian books should be parity priced. However I do wish the overseas price was taken into consideration when the Australian RRP is set by the publisher. It might be sometimes but it is glaringly obvious that the majority of the time it is not. As a bookseller it can be extremely frustrating defending certain book prices when it is completely out of my control.
The focus on book prices in Australia has been under intense scrutiny since Bob Carr led the ‘Coalition for Cheaper Books’ in the call for an open market in Australia. Carr’s view is that if books are cheaper more people will read them. This is a complete furphy. A love of books is learned and nurtured. There is not an on/off switch inside everyone. People will not wake up one day and suddenly start devouring books because they are cheaply priced.
Territorial copyright is fundamental to a vibrant and healthy book industry in Australia. The problem is the 30/90 day rule. It encourages inefficiency and is anti-competitive. Local authors do not need to fear the removal of the rule as their books will always be published here first. A ‘use it or lose it’ territorial copyright law would drive efficiency that would only improve our industry.
Depending on where the Australian dollar sits books are generally more expensive in Australia. But books are more affordable here. The minimum wage in retail in Australia is around $18 per hour and the average price of a new release fiction is $32.95. In the US the minimum wage is about $8.50 per hour and a new release fiction is $25. In Australia it will take you just under two hours to earn the money for a book whereas in the US it would take three hours.
Yes this is an extremely simplistic comparison that ignores a lot of other factors. But so does comparing the cover price of a book in Australia to the cover price in the US.