According to Peter Carey, publishing Down Under is in crisis. And the threat “ that Australian publishers will have their roles reduced to that of distributor in a global corporate chain “ may sound familiar to Canadian readers.
Carey’s fears are prompted by the Australian Parliament’s decision to review the country’s protectionist copyright law, which the two-time Booker-winning author argues is what has allowed Australian literature to flourish in the first place. As it currently stands:
Australian publishers have a window of 30 days to bring out an Australian edition of a book once it has been released anywhere in the world. If they do so, then Australian bookshops have to sell the Australian version, and can’t import the book from overseas. This can mean that books are more expensive “ and harder to get hold of “ in Australia than they are elsewhere, but also allows the country’s local publishing to flourish, rather than forcing it to compete with a flood of cheaper-priced editions from overseas. (via The Guardian)
In Canada, retailers are obliged to stock the Canadian edition of a book, so long as it is priced within 10% of a U.S. one. Carey argues that Australia’s even stricter laws need to be protected.
As long as we have a territorial copyright our publishers have a commercial argument to support Australian literature. They will battle for the sake of our readers and our writers, even if their owners have no personal commitment to the strange loves and needs of Australian readers, or the cultural integrity and future of the Australian nation.
Take copyright away from them, and they no longer have a commercial leg to stand on. And then? Then the global companies will decide that their Australian offices will be much more profitable as distributors of product than publishers of books. If this sounds creepily colonial, it is because it is.