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.

10 thoughts on “Books: Expensive or Affordable?

  1. The Carr talking point that cheaper books will encourage more readers is, as you say, rubbish.

    After all, Jane Austen has been out of copyright and available, for free, via Gutenberg for yonks and yet, unfathomably, when Bob the Banker was promoting his book on “reading” he revealed he hadn’t found time to read her, or any other women writers with the exception of Colleen McCullough’s Roman novels. Clearly price is not the only factor in book choice and reading habits.

    Your point about affordability by comparing the hours of work needed to buy is very well made. There are a lot of things that are “cheaper over there”, directors of banks for example. In some developing nations they probably come in a bit cheaper than the ones we pay for here. Perhaps we could have some parallel importation there as well?

  2. 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.

    I was told that the 30-day rule was often difficult for publishers to meet. I’m not an industry insider, so I was wondering if you have an opinion on this. If a local publisher wanted to use its territorial copyright but can’t release the book simultaneously as its first worldwide release, how should it work? Allow booksellers to sell the book until the publisher can make it available? I’d also love cheaper local books, but I’m mindful that dirt cheap prices aren’t always going to be the best for the industry, so I was wondering if you had a suggestion as to how it should work.

    And that’s not even getting into ebooks…

    1. Their excuse is 30 dats is as fast as they can publish but the reality is they can meet a worldwide pub date if they have to eg Stephenie Meyer, Dan Brown etc
      I’m constantly told they don’t get the files from overseas on time but that is their own internal inefficiency. If there were more competitive pressures they would publish faster.
      I got a finished copy of a book on Friday that comes out in the US and the UK in June. It’s not being released here until July. Why 30 days later when they have the stock ready for June?

      1. Personally I think the 30-day rule is reasonable, but the 90-day rule to restock should be replaced with 30-day. Also, I have seen arguments that if the 90-day rule is not meet then the title becomes open-market, but once it is restocked by the supplier, the 90-rule applies again. I think if they miss the 90-day rule, it should be open-market permanently. One problem is, who keeps track of whether the 30/90 day rules have been meet on each book?

      2. The 30/90 day rule was implemented before anyone could contemplate how the Internet was going affect everyday life, 1992. It needs to be updated to reflect the realities of doing business in 2010

      3. I’d love a 0-day rule. I’d settle for 7-14 days, but I reckon, with people able to pre-order books, that’s still too long a wait.

  3. I should also point out that I’ve seen booksellers stock the more expensive local C format re-releases over cheaper mass market imports for books not under PIR, which I think does a disservice to the reader. It happens in romance, which really sucks because romance readers tend to buy a lot of books. So we end up buying from independent bookshops who source the cheapest books for us.

  4. Example of why 30 day rule doesn’t work:
    THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin is being published in the US on Tuesday June 8. It will be published in NZ on June 10 and in Australia on July 1. NZ have the exact same edition as Australia from the same printer and distributor. I queried why the different release dates with the publisher and they said “New Zealand have an open market so they have chosen to mirror the States”

  5. I hear what you’re saying, but all the same. I have an alright wage, but with the cost of living as high as it is, and committments like bills, mortgage repayments and the like, the reality is that books in Australia are really expensive. I can’t afford to buy books regularly at all, and thats on a good wage.

    I either have to borrow or buy second hand, but even then the price of second hand books has been going up lately.

    Books are expensive. I am not saying that we should cahnge terriortial copyright, but there is no avoiding the fact that they are expensive, and for some people prohibitively so

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