Productivity Commission and Parallel Importation of Books Essay

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Productivity Commission Parallel Importation of Books a submission by Tim Winton

Introduction I am a writer of literary fiction. I have been a professional freelance author for my entire adult life. I am the author of twenty books for adults, adolescents and children. My work is published in five distinct English-speaking markets and has been translated into twenty languages. My books have been adapted for radio, film, television and theatre and have received thirty awards in Australia and overseas. They are studied at every level of schooling at home and at universities abroad. In the 27 years of my professional life I have witnessed and participated in considerable change in Australian publishing. As a primary producer I have spent my working life in an uncertain, competitive and high-risk environment where many practitioners live near or below subsistence level. This is a trade whose primary producers usually live without superannuation, employment insurance, lines of credit, annual leave or the most basic certainties enjoyed by the average member of the workforce. Writers live by the fruit of their own minds. Copyright recognises and enshrines the value of original work. Copyright is the single most important industrial fact in a writer's life, the civilising influence of a culture upon a market. It has taken many generations to produce an environment where copyright is honoured, and such an environment can be easily taken for granted, especially by observers from far safer vantage points than that of an author. Australia has a political and cultural tradition of fairness and equity for all working people. Any industry or trade seeking to be deemed free or fair must look first to its most vulnerable participants. In the publishing industry this means the writers. I am not attempting to portray myself here as a suffering artist. For a literary writer I have enjoyed considerable critical and commercial success in Australia and abroad, particularly since 1991, but my experience is exceptional. For the overwhelming majority of practitioners, the profession provides a hand-to-mouth existence at best. Data on this point is widely available. It is an industrial fact that most Australian writers earn considerably less than any other participant in the publishing industry including the consumer. The average writer can walk into a boardroom, studio, town hall or bookshop and know that every working adult present earns more than he does. The full-time freelance writer will earn a fraction of the wage of a publishing executive or employee with similar levels of experience or competence in the trade. Few distributors, printers, typesetters, literary journalists, arts bureaucrats, government overseers, designers or freight operatives will earn as little as the writer whose work sustains this industry. Like publishers, booksellers also take considerable risks in terms of investment, but few live with the level of risk common to the freelance writer, and fewer still are as poorly remunerated for their risk. The annual income of a moderately successful novelist would, in most other occupations, indicate failure. From the publishing

executive to the reader, almost every participant involved in the production and purchase of a book in this country will earn more than the writer. In this regard it is worth bearing in mind that the consumer is by no means the player at greatest disadvantage in the transaction of a book sale.

Importing Australians: some historical background As previously stated, I have worked exclusively in this trade all my life. I came into it in the late 70s and early 80s at a time when publishing and the arts - and indeed the broader culture - were in a period of transition. Before this, few literary writers were able to live exclusively from their work. Most supplemented their income with other work. A fortunate few enjoyed independent means. The taint of 'hobbyism', which periodically infects bureaucratic and…