Tuesday, 31 May 2016

On Removing Parallel Import Restrictions or 'a zombie-hydra-vampire-monster is eating our culture'

"You’ve got nothing to lose but your culture."

Have you ever thought how many people go into a book?

Between the writer and the reader there are literally dozens of others: Agent, publisher, copy and line editors, formatters and type setters and proof readers, printers, suppliers of paper and ink, the people in the warehouses and drivers of delivery trucks, and then more people in other warehouses, this time of distributors, and more drivers of vans, and don’t forget there will be people in the publishing houses working out print runs and marketing campaigns and publicity and selling the book to retailers, and then in the shop there will be people who see the publisher’s rep and order it (so then there are people in the distribution channels processing those orders and pulling the book from their warehouse and packing it off) and someone in the shop receiving the stock and putting it on the shelf in all its pristine paper gorgeousness and then there’s you, the buyer. A publisher once told me it takes more than a hundred people to produce any book.

Yes, it’s a lot. It’s a thriving industry, the Australian book industry. It employs thousands, turns over billions of dollars each year, doesn’t ask for subsidies and contributes to the life and soul of the nation. For what really isn’t a lot of money, maybe a round of drinks or a meal out or a couple of movie tickets, the average Australian book represents not only great value, but a brick in the wall of our culture, a lot of people being employed and contributing to the economy and something you can keep forever (barring accidents in the bath and paper-munching insects, but you get what I mean!)!

Why am I going on at length about this?

Because I fear that in an industry dedicated to stories, we don’t tell our own story of how books come to exist. And because we don’t, every few years the industry has to keep fighting a zombie-hydra-vampire-monster called Removing PIR (or, Parallel Import Restrictions). Every few years it seems we have to keep hacking off its head and thinking we have finally found the right spike to drive through its nasty heart – I know our beloved and greatly lamented Peter Milne fought against it at least three times in the past – but the beast keeps reappearing.

Now this can be quite a tedious legal eye-glazing discussion which you will find in greater detail elsewhere, but if you aren’t allergic to nutshells, let’s just summarise it as a protection measure whereby Australian book publishers have 30 days to establish copyright on a title, and if it's released in that time, retailers can’t import it from overseas. Publishers try their damnedest to get the titles in in timely fashion, but yes, occasionally a title is released overseas before it is available here, and yes sometimes it’s cheaper. (Though if you have ever gotten an American mass-produced book, you certainly know where the money has been saved!)

New Zealand abolished PIR on books a few years ago. This month the NZ Book of the Year was announced – a fine book by Stephen Daisley who was born and bred in NZ but now lives here. It was published in Australia, and is set in WA in the 1950s. The NZ Book of the Year has almost nothing to do with the land that has given it its finest literary award. New Zealand publishing is in dire straits – local authors approach Australian publishers because their local publishers have disappeared. And as for prices – books cost more in NZ than they did before repeal. Who says cheap book prices remain cheap???

Yes, Australian publishers have vested interests in retaining PIR.

And perhaps it could be argued as an employee of an iconic independent bookshop, I have a vested interest in being able to read and sell books that explain and elucidate my country. And maybe moreso because I have participated in judging Australian books for important awards. But when every publisher I know sees loss of territorial rights and therefore loss of money equaling a lessening of ability to invest in our own homegrown authors and writing, I can’t help but feel outraged. And if you feel a little outrage yourself, contact your federal parliamentarian. Go on. You’ve got nothing to lose but your culture. The industry – and all the people it represents, the authors and publishing house employees and printers and warehouse workers and drivers of delivery vans – well, we have a little more at stake.

Lindy Jones

More information and opinion on Parallel Import Restriction (PIR)

Any discussion around this topic quickly comes down to two propositions: Price - 'What’s wrong with cheap books? Cheaper is better, right?' and Globalisation - 'But everything is global now, right?'

The first is an example of a very narrow focus and the second takes the broadest possible view. As with most things in life, the truth lies somewhere between.

In their open letter to the Prime Minister, authors Peter Carey, Richard Flanagan and Tom Keneally point out with calm logic that regarding price, market forces have actually been applying downward pressure on prices for some years even within the current system of PIR. On globalisation, they point out that the retention of PIR is merely staying in line with the practices of other English language publishing regions such as the US and Britain.

The Open Letter:

Globalisation as a positive notion is thought of as spreading activity and access globally. Yet we also see it restricting activity, clumping it. e.g. manufacturing clumped into China, based purely on lowest cost. The weakening of local publishers can only clump English language publishing even further from our shores.

The predominant thrust of Lindy’s message is to highlight the largely hidden and very human activity, the small army of Australians involved in bringing a new book into the world. In the link below, author Melina Marchetta gives a very personal example of this, illustrating the path from author through to the finished book, and in her case, even on to the production of an Australian film. At the film launch a friend observes “Every person in this room is here because of something you did”. And there are no doubt many authors in the 23 years since that are emerging with Melina’s novels as formative influences. And on it goes.

Melina Marchetta’s Post:

What I see each day: Being a reader who values novels with a well-developed sense of place, it can resonate even more when that place is recognisably Australian. In addition to that, I work as Marketing Manager at Abbey’s and see so many of the authors, sales reps and publicists all fully investing their passion for a book conceived, developed, produced and marketed in Australia. This delicate chain of interdependencies is what makes the Australian book industry a thriving cornerstone of our culture.

Now time for action.
If the above has meant anything at all to you, you might like to add your signature to the petition at Change.org, hosted by the Australian Society of Authors (link below). I have! Craig Kirchner

Save Australian literature: stop parallel importation of books

Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ May 2016

Charlotte Wood’s latest book, The Natural Way of Things has won the Independent Booksellers’ Book of the Year Award and also The Stella Prize. And no wonder.

This is not a charming story. I had to read it in short bursts. The writing is brilliant – good enough to read aloud. The story concerns a small group of young women who have been duped, captured and imprisoned in a remote, deserted and decaying outback station. They all have one thing in common. They have been involved in a sexual scandal concerning an older, powerful man. There is an electric fence around the perimeter of the valley and they are “looked after” by two men and a woman who seem capable only of derision and insults. Be sure to read this.

Each new book from Charlotte Wood strikes out in a new direction but each time she displays her incisive depiction of people and places. Her previous books include The Children; Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food; The Submerged Cathedral; Animal People, and Brothers & Sisters: Anthology of Stories from some well-known Australian authors. The Submerged Cathedral was short-listed for the Miles Franklin.

I’m now reading Julian Barnes’ latest book called The Noise of Time. Reviewers have called this a masterpiece and so it seems. In this slender book, the third person narrative refers to three different periods in the life of Russian composer, Dmitri Shoskatovich, his troubled relationship with Stalin and the Communist Party, and his efforts to retain his artistic integrity. Very moving. If you know anything of the life of this famous composer you will find extra enjoyment in this. You could also read Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shoskatovich edited by Solomon Volkov.

The very best news for Helen Garner was announced recently. She is one of the recipients of the 2016 Windham-Campbell Prizes which means she is awarded a little more than $200,000 as one of the Non-fiction awards in this generous but little known prize which does not ask for entrants. Many of her readers will be pleased for her. Her three most famous books are The First Stone, This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial and Joe Cinque's Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law. We also have stock of True Stories: Selected Non Fiction as well as the fiction which first made her famous – The Children’s Bach, Postcards from Surfers and Monkey Grip. Her latest book is titled Everywhere I Look which Lindy Jones has described as "Drawn from articles she has contributed to different journals/papers/books over the past decade or two, and loosely organised by theme, each is a small but perfect jewel, or a quiet sip of sanity in an increasingly incoherent world."

The inimitable Robyn Williams has written to celebrate his show on Radio National. It is called In Love with Betty the Crow: The First 40 Years of ABC RN’s THE SCIENCE SHOW –a show which he describes as “a selection of compelling conversations”. Fans of the show, like me, will really enjoy this and others will be enticed to become regular listeners.

Biographer Suzanne Falkiner has chosen a better-known subject for her latest book, called Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow. She has had access to an enormous amount of letters and diaries and of course interviews with friends still living, so this is a very detailed account of the life of Stow, regarded as one of our greatest writers. He was the second winner of the Miles Franklin Award and has also received the Patrick White Award. There is a new edition of his poetry The Land’s Meaning: New Selected Poems and you will find many poems quoted in the biography. We have stock of his fiction including To The Islands, Visitants, Tourmaline, The Girl Green as Elderflower, The Suburbs of Hell, Merry-go-Round in the Sea and Midnite.

Did you read Penguin and the Lane Brothers: The Untold Story of a Publishing Revolution by Stuart Kells? If you did you will know already that Richard, one of the younger brothers of Sir Allen Lane, came to Australia as part of a scheme to train young men as farmers. They were known as the Barwell Boys, named after a Premier of South Australia, who began the scheme. And you will know that Richard is the brother most interested in writing. At only eighteen years of age he kept an excellent diary about his adventures, good and bad, in a very foreign country, which he regularly sent home to his parents in Bristol. He was in the country three years and moved from filthy shack to grand house, complete with billiard table. These diaries have now been edited by Stuart Kells and his wife Fiona, as well as Richard’s daughter and granddaughter. They prove to be a fascinating, well written account of rural life in Australia between the wars. Very enjoyable.

Did you like the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martell called Life of Pi? If you did you will be ready for another challenge in his new book The High Mountains of Portugal which also features animals in strange places. Take the plunge for this is a beautifully written book – part ghost story, part fable, part quest.

Booker Prize winner Anita Brookner died in March, in her eighties. She seems to be out of favour as only a few of her novels appear as in stock at Abbey's but there was a time when we would have all of her titles in stock. And that might mean 23 or 24. Although she was in her fifties before she began writing fiction, after that she published a new novel almost every year. I know I waited anxiously for the next one! She was a lecturer at the Courtauld Institute, and like an art historian, she was able to tease out the meaning in her stories. The first one, called A Start in Life, began with the remark ‘Dr Weiss, at forty, knew her life had been ruined by literature.’ As soon as I saw that I knew I must read it. Her stories were mostly about middle-aged females suffering isolation or disappointment. One critic famously remarked “I could strangle her characters with the sleeves of their own cardigans”. Nevertheless I recommend these finely crafted stories. Try your library if no luck at Abbey’s. Her most famous title was Hotel du Lac which won the Booker Prize.

I was eagerly awaiting the new book from Graham Swift, author of Last Orders, Waterland an England and Other Stories. It is called Mothering Sunday: A Romance and is set in 1924. Orphan Jane Fairchild, maid in an affluent middle-class household, has nowhere to visit until she receives a secret phone call from her lover, the charismatic son of her employers’ friends and neighbour. An intense day follows as Jane visits him in his own house, which she has been instructed she must enter by the front door. As the day proceeds small hints are offered to the reader. Perhaps all is not well? Jane becomes a famous author who carefully avoids this day when interviewers ask her about her youth. This is a lovely book. Very English!

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers