Home Management Matters Australian book publishing under attack?

Australian book publishing under attack?


Amazon.com is the world’s largest book retailer and Australians spend around $150 million with Amazon each year.

So how do Australian book stores take on a $16 billion company?

Australian online book-reseller Booktopia.com.au has adopted a model that could leave it at a loss (and deliberately so).

On the 15th September, 2009, at exactly 9am (Australian Eastern Standard Time), the new blockbuster Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol, will hit Australian book stores. Fans of the Da Vinci code (and its many sequels) will be counting down the days until it arrives.

The storyline has been kept so secretive and the security around printing and distribution is so tight that no one is really sure what the book is about, other than it once again features Robert Langdon as the key character and it takes place over 12 hours.

Amazon.com, no doubt, expects to sell millions of copies worldwide, and many people in Australia may consider buying their copy from the online giant. That is, of course, unless Booktopia has its way.

According to a media release announcing the book launch, Booktopia is planning to match the overseas price and offer Australians the same book at the same discounted price.

“I want to make sure readers in Australia can buy online at the same price as readers anywhere in the world,” said the Booktopia.com.au CEO, Tony Nash.

This comes at a time when Australian book publishers are smarting from recommendations by the Australian Productivity Commission to free-up Australian reseller laws, which currently prohibit mass importation of foreign books without a proper reseller’s licensing agreement from the copyright owner.

Australian book publishers have presented numerous submissions to the Commission that claim it is the revenue generated from the reseller agreements that allow Australian publishers to invest in original Australian content.

The Australian publisher (i.e. authorised reseller) of the new Dan Brown book, Random House Australia, is printing 600,000 copies in its first print run and each and every copy is being printed in Australia. It has set the recommended retail price at $49.95 (although astute buyers can second guess that it is likely to be discounted heavily at retail).

At the same time, Amazon has set its discounted price in the UK at approximately AUD$20 and AUD$21 in the US. Booktopia.com.au is currently taking pre-orders on its website at $19.95.

By doing this, the Australian online reseller is likely to take a short-term financial hit, pushing the popular title as a ‘loss-leader’ (i.e. a featured article of merchandise sold at a loss in order to draw customers), for longer-term financial gain.

Maree McCaskill, CEO of the Australian Publishers Association, in a statement on the Association’s website, makes the point, “You don’t invest in a property you are renting, completely renovate it and landscape it in the knowledge that you will never own it. The Commission is proposing that publishers and authors rent copyright thereby removing completely the ability to invest in the Australian industry”.

What this means for original Australian content is anyone’s guess, with interests as deep as, well, a Dan Brown thriller. Let’s just say, the ‘symbolism’ of Booktopia’s move will not be lost on Australian booksellers.