Why the 30 day rule doesn’t work

I am a staunch supporter of territorial copyright in Australia but I am totally against the 30/90 day rule.

The rule was devised in 1992. The internet and globalization of retailing has made it obsolete. It is anti-competitive and does not promote supply chain efficiency.

When I speak to publishers they say it is impossible for them to get the files they need to print locally or the stock from overseas to publish at the same time as the US or UK. Despite the obvious fact that they easily do this when the book is written by J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer.

THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin is being touted as the biggest book of  2010 (and I agree). It is being published tomorrow (June 8th) in the United States and on Thursday (June 10th) in New Zealand. It won’t be published in Australia until July 1st.

The NZ edition is identical to the Australian edition and is being supplied by the same distributor. When I queried the different release dates I was told by the publisher it was because:

 “New Zealand have a far more aggressive open market”

The money spent on marketing this title is also significantly higher in NZ with TV commercials and other marketing initiatives. Again due to 
more competition in the NZ market.

Territorial copyright is an integral part of the Australian Book Industry. I would not want to see an open market in Australia. However the 30/90 day rule disrespects readers and hampers the ability of booksellers to provide books to their customers. It should be abolished (a zero/zero day rule) or with a shorter timeframe (a 7/7 day rule). This would have no impact on local content as it will always be published here first and if a publisher buys the territorial rights for an overseas publication it should be use it or lose it.

UPDATE

The Passage is being released in Australia on June 24

7 thoughts on “Why the 30 day rule doesn’t work

  1. I agree that the current system isn’t working. But it’s true that it’s not easy for publishers to get the files they need from the US or UK. It’s true despite the fact that they manage it for Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling. The reason that it works for those three authors (and other big names) is that there is a massive worldwide audience, and the overseas publishers are geared up to organise this and to enforce an embargo date. With smaller authors, overseas publishers just do not care whether the Australian publisher has received the files or not. We’re a tiny slice of the market, and we don’t matter to them at all.

    I’d say the reason NZ is getting it before Australia is that they do have a completely open market. But they did not have a vibrant local publishing industry before they opened up their market in the first place. Australia has a vibrant industry, employs thousands of people in typesetting, printing, publicity, marketing, editorial and sales. If you take away the 30/90 day rule entirely you will guarantee some of those jobs will be lost; less money for the local industry means less money to spend on first time Australian authors.

    I’m not saying the 30/90 day rule is perfect; it’s protectionism, plain and simple. But what it’s protecting is worth it – and needs to be revised based on more than blithe intolerance for slipped release dates. If you want the book the day of its release then order it on Amazon. The vast majority of Australians will still buy it in stores.

    1. If an Australian publisher was serious about a book they would get the files they needed in time. If they aren’t serious about a book (e.g. not spending a cent on marketing or only bringing in 500 copies) then why should they retain their option on copyright. If the overseas publisher doesn’t care about the Australian publisher then they should look at the deals they do with that publisher or the author should get a differnt local publisher.
      Changing the 30/90 day rule won’t affect our vibrant local publishing industry because those books would be published here first so would be protected by territorial copyright. The Australian book industry needs to become more efficent otherwise there will be jobs lossed and less money for local authors. The 30/90 day rule encourages laziness not efficiency.
      Why should Amazon have an advantage on my store because the local publisher isn’t driven to release a book at the same time when in the case of THE PASSAGE the book is sitting in their warehouse right now but won’y be in stores until 22 days after the US and NZ?

  2. I agree it encourages laziness, but tossing it out without adequate replacement protection is not the answer.

    Territorial copyright alone doesn’t guarantee protection for Australian authors. Established Australian authors, in fact, wouldn’t do badly at all with parallel importation. But Australian publishers will not have as much money to risk on already-risky first-time Australian authors (or even already established Australian midlist authors). That is where the value of this kind of protectionism really is. Without it, we’ll see fewer Australian authors.

    Having said all that you’re quite right about Australian bookstores losing out. There needs to be adequate loopholes so that Australian bookstores aren’t unfairly affected. I think reducing the 30 day rule to begin with is probably a sensible idea. But a 0/0 or 7/7 rule isn’t going to cut it. Australian publishers really need to step up to the plate and put some best practice principles into place so they at least *try* to get it to Aussie booksellers as close to release as physically possible. However, without overseas publisher support, this will not happen. Regardless of budget, if the overseas publisher doesn’t prioritise getting the files to international publishers (including Australian publishers) – they won’t arrive in time to print them here. I’ve personally been involved in bugging overseas publishers for print-ready files – I’ve sent multiple emails a day for weeks at a time, made phone calls in the middle of the night. Sometimes they just don’t respond to requests. It’s maddening.

  3. Has this been debated before? An open market does not destroy the local publishing scene – evidence: new Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Arabia – all multinationals publish local talent. All these territories have investment from random house, penguin, and Harper Collins etc. So there is still money to be made in open markets. the U.K are debating the removal of territorial copyright, the U.S is doing the same. And your experience of ‘the passage’ is an example of sloppy business practice in Australian publishing – “oh there is competition in nz so we better release it early, but Aus is protected so they can wait and still pay

    1. I think some level of territorial copyright is essential to protect locally produced content but it shouldn’t be used to protect overseas produced content when the local rights holder does nothing to publish a book as soon as possible

  4. Hi, I found your blog through the aussie book blogger directory. It is so wonderful to find other australian bloggers out there, I will definitely come back. I come from Sydney as well, and will make sure I check out your book shop if I am ever in Mosman.

    I have to admit to not knowing much about territorial copywrite, except what I have read in the media. I was very inspired by Richard Flanagan’s talk about it in 2009 (or was it 2008 – time moves so quickly). I am glad that I know a little bit more about it now

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