A day after my interview in BRW was published, Angus and Robertson goes into administration. There is an A&R store at the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke St in Melbourne CBD, a prime retail location. Before Christmas, the store was busily promoting products ... no surprise. But they were not promoting books. The biggest effort was for a $60 Chinese telescope. They had given up on books.
No wonder: you or I can import books from cheap overseas book stores, but Australian book retailers can't. They have to buy overpriced books from Australian publishers, because parallel imports in books are prohibited. This is an old situation. The Productivity Commission, a useful and rigorous part of the Australian public service, has consistently recommended to governments to abandon this protection of various local interests (printers, established authors and the publishers themselves). These interest groups, particularly printers, printer unions and authors lobbied hard, and the Rudd government refused to implement the repeated recommendation to allow free trade. The Government offered the odd justification that this decision didn't really matter, because Australians could import books from overseas. Well, the Government was correct, except for Australians who don't or won't use the internet, who I guess are poor and aged Australians: a wonderful policy outcome from a Labor government.
It seems a bit harsh on the affected retailers. They would anyway have struggled against online retail, but this policy also harms the development of Australian online retail, who suffer the same restrictions on products they want to sell. Instead of having a fair fight, they had to fight with hands tied together. I know from my days with CDwow.com that Australia was a disproportionately large market for book imports, and I imagine there are other UK online book retailers who are delighted at the policies of the Australian government.