I think I need to be reminded why I supported the retention of Australian territorial copyright last year. In the face of a large campaign from the Coalition for Cheaper Books the majority of booksellers supported the idea that to have a healthy and thriving book industry in Australia we needed territorial copyright. It gave publishers more certainty for investing in books and authors, it protected authors from overseas remainders and booksellers were not going to be at the mercy of large supermarkets importing cheap, low quality books.
However this has all come at a cost to our industry. While the rest of the world was gearing up for the eBook explosion the Australian industry as a whole did nothing. Some publishers like Allen & Unwin and Pan Macmillan Australia had enough foresight and control to realise they couldn’t waste a year on the sidelines. But there was no danger from eBooks in Australia. We had no affordable devices so the Australian market could remain insulated from the eBook phenomena.
But that all changed in October last year. Amazon announced they were taking their successful Kindle eReader international. Suddenly not only was there going to be an affordable and quality eReader available in our market but also a giant retailer would be supplying content. Amazon very quickly worked out what they could and couldn’t sell into the Australian market and eBooks started to take off.
The only saving grace for local retailers was they had no local content. While journos and authors started crowing about how wonderful the Kindle experience was, we were able to tell our customers that it was not the ideal product for them as there was no Tim Winton or any other Australian writer available to read on it. This gave local retailer some breathing space to try and establish their own eBook retailing sites. However this has been next to impossible as the has traditionally been no wholesalers in the Australian market and the new eBook Wholesalers that have emerged are running business models based around volume which are preventative to stand alone retailers.
The Australian Publishers Association announced plans on the back of the Amazon announcement that they were going to build an eBook platform using their TitlePage service to give access for local retailers to local, Australian eBook content. But no detail of this platform was given. It is only now starting to emerge how the new platform will work and it sounds like the perfect solution for Australian retailers. As a group publishers are moving in the right direction.
But individually they are shooting the industry in the foot. While retailers wait for the new eBook platform local publishers, large and small, are starting to handover their content to Amazon. The advantage local retailers had is disappearing and the total eBook market in Australia is effectively being given to Amazon. What author events are Amazon going to run in Australia? Are they going to champion Miles Franklin nominees or promote our wonderful children’s authors? Australian publishers and authors ran a campaign supporting territorial copyright called “Australians for Australian Books”. Maybe it should be “Australians for Australian Books from Amazon” because if Amazon takes over the eBook market in Australia there will be less Australian retailers selling books digital or physical.