The Price Of Books

Penguin Classics paperback editions

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I love reading.  I can happily get sidetracked in a bookstore for hours on end, but I don’t buy half the number of books that I would like to buy because of the high price of books in Australia.  I always knew that books were more expensive in Australia, but a recent trip to the US really brought home how expensive books are here.

Paperback: US $6-$8  AUS $15- $25

Trade Paperback: US $15  AUS $25-$35

Hardcover: US $30-$35  AUS $40+

For the price of one paperback here in Australia, I can buy 2-3 books in the US.

The reason behind the high price of books in Australia is to protect local writers and thus protect “Australian culture”.  I am all for local writers getting the opportunity to get their work published, but the down and dirty truth is that I won’t be buying their books.  I only fork out $35 for a book by an author I really love and even then I usually wait until the book has been out for a while and has dropped down to about $25.  I might see a book by a local author that sounds really interesting, but I won’t pay $35 for it.  I might buy the book if I see it in a second hand bookstore where I can buy books for about $8, but the local author won’t see a cent from that sale.

I wonder how many other Australians are out there that are like me and are not buying the number of books they might buy if they were $5-$10 cheaper.  Bob Carr (former Premier of NSW) has written a really good editorial on this subject and I think this the one time I have actually wholeheartedly agreed with him.  Cheaper books in Australia would increase book sales thus bringing the same but most probably more money into the publishing industry. Until they reduce the prices of books in Australia, I will be buying most of my books at second hand bookstores or online from overseas retailers meaning that very little of my book buying money will go to Australian publishers. Sorry guys but in my eyes you either become competitive or you die out.

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15 responses to “The Price Of Books

  1. Kids’ books can be surprising expensive too.

  2. I think you’re wrong when you state that book prices are higher in Australia to protect local writers and thus protect “Australian culture”. That may be a consequence of higher prices but it’s not the driver. Book prices are determined by production costs and when an Australian publisher commissions a print run of 10,000 coppies compared to an international publishers commissioning a run of 100,000, the unit price is reflective.
    You make the assumption that the removal of teritorial copyright (i.e. Bob Carrs rant) will lower the cost of books in Australia. It won’t. even the productivity commission who recomended the removal of teritorial copyright could produce no evidence that book will be cheaper. All it will do is destroy the Australin publishing industry. If the federal government does agree to remove teritorial copyright in the future I do hope you will be happy buying ‘remainered’ stock off Australian bookshop shelves that offer no royalties for the author. but hey, at least you got it cheap right?

    • Why should I be forced to pay higher prices to prop up an industry that is not competitive?

      Also, when New Zealand removed their territorial copyright, the price of books dropped and more people started buying books. Who is to say that will not happen here in Australia? And more people buying books from bookstores like yours has to be good for you and the rest of the bookstore industry, right?

      I am all for paying royalties to the author. I believe people should get paid for the art they produce, but I won’t prop up an uncompetitive, overpriced industry simply because it is Australian.

  3. I don’t know on what evidence you base your statement that the Australian book industry is not competitive. according to the OECD it happens to be one of the most competitive in the developed world.
    Leaving that aside, you say that the price of book dropped in NZ when teritorial copyright was removed and they did… for a short time. they now pay more for their books (as a percentage of disposable income) than almost every other western country. Add to that the fact that they now have no publishing industry to speak of and no significant work of fiction from a NZ author for the last decade and you get a very clear picture of what the decision has meant for NZ.
    What most people don’t realise is that a large portion of the books available in Australia are already not subject to teritorial copyright because the local publisher didn’t produce an Australian version withing 30 days of it being released overseas. Has this led to these books being cheaper?… In most cases it has not.

    If you think you’re paying too much for your books in Australia then you have the option of buying them online form off-shore suppliers. This has always been an option for Australian consumers who want to save a few dollars on books.

    Removing teritorial copyright will not reduce the price of books over the long term. All it will do is destroy our publishing industry and consolidate market share for a few major retailers. Untimately it will be they that set the price for Australian books and if you think their going to choose cheaper books over larger profits, think again.

  4. Excellent post Riayn. I haven’t bought a book locally for almost three years now for exactly the reasons stated. I see no point in supporting an industry that is failing to keep up with its competitors. I don’t order from overseas to save “a few dollars”, I order from there because I get the book at half, or even a third of the price.

  5. To follow your argument through Fern you have to accept that cars are cheaper overseas, so too are groceries, CD’s, clothes, pool chemicals, contraceptives and a whole host of other consumables. We don’t hear everyone screaming about those items being cheaper to buy off-shore so why an exception for books?

    Because most people who comment on the removal of teritorial copyright want to talk about idealism rather than facts. Nobody wants to let the truth get in the way of a good and righteous cause.

    The simple fact is that as a percenage of disposable income, books are not significantly cheaper or deared in Australia than in other western countries. Yes you can get some of them cheaper overseas, just like cars, or clothes or music and noone says you shouldn’t buy them off-shore if that what you want to do.
    What we should be doing is removing the GST from books sold in Australia. No other western society levies a consumption tax on books. Theres an automatic 10% reduction straight away. But to suggest that the removal of teritorial copyright will solve all our problem is simply ignoring the facts.

    • What is the value to consumers of the territorial copyright? What does it give us that would be taken away if it was removed?

      As for people not “screaming” about CDs being cheaper overseas I suggest that you talk to more people because there are a lot of us who believe that CDs are too expensive in Australia and are now buying our music online.

      With cars they used to be a lot more expensive when the government had a tax on imported cars to keep our uncompetitive car industry going. When that was removed the price of a car did drop, however, due to the lovely global financial crisis this has since risen slightly.

      It would be lovely for GST to be removed from books, but since it is a goods and services tax and books classed as goods, then you would be hard pressed to find support for this.

  6. Teritorial copyright prevents other english speaking nations form using Australia as a dumping ground for unwanted or remaindered books that offer little or no royalties to the author. It means if an Australian publisher has PAID for the rights to a book, they must produce an Australian version within 30 days of it being released overseas and it must not be unavailable for a period of more than 90 days. If either of these rules are not met, book sellers can source the book form any overseas suppliers they like. Just like you can. This use-it-or-lose-it principle protects the copyrights of Australian writers while it compels publishers to release books in a timely manner.
    Proper copyright protection laws are fundamental to the success of a modern economy. They protect the interests of creators and protect their capacity to generate income from their innovation; they therefore encourage innovative activity. The existence of copyright and the continuing enforcement of rigorous copyright protection regimes allow creators to generate an income from their creativity through royalties or other payments, and they foster investment in creative works by businesses in Australia.
    The US, UK and Canada all have teritorial copyright and have no plans to remove them.

    And just for the record, I, like the policy makers in every other western country, agree there shouldn’t be GST on personal hygene products just like there shouldn’t be a GST on books.

    • Ok, you have convinced me that territorial copyright is a good thing but only because it means authors are getting their royalties. But it still doesn’t explain why books are twice as expensive here then they are in US and UK and the GST tax isn’t the reason.

  7. The simple answer Riayn is ecomomies of scale. The more you print, the cheaper they become. Another reason SOME books cost more, and I’m not telling stories out of school here, is because places like A&R and Borders Australia prices their books well above recomended retail prices. Others like Dymocks and Collins rarely discount, especially online. This is common knowledge within the industry.

    If you’re prepared to do a little shopping around you will find the majority of books available in Australia are competitivly priced. you just have to do some searching. Most of the department stores discount by up to 40% off rrp. If you take off GST, that brings them in line with most overseas online suppliers.

    There are always going to be situations where some titles are cheaper to buy off-shore. This might be because no Australian publisher has got the rights and the book has to be imported. there are costs involved with that. A lot of text books fall into this category.

    If you want to save some money on books all you have to do is shop around. Its a little work but well worth it. There are always going to be little indi stores or department store that can complete with the Amazons of the world. Unfortunately because we are all so time poor these days we are increasingly reluctant to do the ground work and it’s all to easy to jump online and buy off-shore. I personally don’t have an issue with that, more power to you, just as long as people know that there are competitivly priced local options if they want to dig a little below the surface.

    • Do you have list of competitively priced local options? Not only myself, but many others would love to support local bookstores that offer books at reasonable prices.

  8. This is a pretty good list. there are some great indi shops on these lists.

    All major department stores (bigW, Target, K Mart) have a really big range these days ands are priced competitively. you wont get too many specialised books from the departments stores but they are really good for childrens books, popular fiction, romance, cookbooks and biographies.

  9. Pingback: Where To Buy Cheap Books in Australia « Rainbow of Chaos

  10. I agree with both sides of the coin here. Being a booklover I find it very expensive to buy books which is why I shop around, esp as I no longer work for a Chain Bookstore and no longer get staff discount. However changing parrallel imporation laws will not make books cheaper and I’m glad they haven’t changed them. Dymocks were part of the coalition for cheaper books yet they don’t sell their books any cheaper than other independant bookstores even though they get a bigger discount from publishers than the indies. They sell them at the RRP and make a larger margin for themselves. The very reason that A&R ups the price on all of their books, so they make a larger margin. We also have to keep in mind that in the US and UK, while they have cheaper books, their book indsutries are dying because of the ridiculous discounting that goes on over there. Which means less money for publishing houses to invest in new books and publications, which in the end is detrimental for everyone.