Monday 25 March 2002

The tyranny of colonization

I can’t believe there is a worse place for a book lover to live in the English speaking world than Australia where, until quite recently, book publishing was controlled by a British cartel that limited the range of books that could be sold and overcharged for the books they deigned to publish here. An Australian government report (Copyright and Monopoly Profits: Books, Records and Software) outlines the background to this iniquitous arrangement:

Historically British publishers had a monopoly over publishing in the colonies and later, the countries of the Commonwealth. The British cartel was supported by the ‘British Publishers’ Traditional Market Agreement’ which divided the English speaking world in two, to be shared by British and American publishers. The British had Britain itself and the former British empire while the Americans had the US and its dependencies. Publishers in one or the other had exclusive rights to their own territory. This formal arrangement was upset by an antitrust action in the mid 1970s which prohibited US publishers from engaging in market sharing. However, since then, as noted by the PSA, publishers have been able to maintain the status quo through means such as the territorial tying of copyright as well as tacit understandings on the part of publishers. In the case of Australia this was enforced through the provisions banning parallel importation of books. The effect was that while availability was a concern, so too was price. Australia was served by the more expensive British publishers and there was the extra markup over British prices.

Wanting to read George Steiner’s The Portage to San Christobal of A.H., I looked for it without success in a couple of local bookshops over the weekend. Today I was in central Sydney so I tried at the biggest bookshop, Abbey’s.

“Out-of-print,” said the shop assistant. “In fact, most of his books are out-of-print.”

They may be out-of-print in Australia, I thought to myself, but that’s only because the British publishing houses that still control the book trade here are only interested in supplying gardening books, cookbooks, and movie tie-ins. Given that policy, I can understand why they wouldn’t be interested in “a ‘what if’ story in which young Israeli Nazihunters find Hitler in the Amazonian jungle thirty years after the end of the Second World War.”

A pox on them. Amazon have the book in stock, of course, but I don’t want to wait. I have an essay on the boil about the importance of allowing villains to defend themselves to the best of their ability. I searched the Newtown secondhand bookstores (including Gould’s), again to no avail. has 74 copies available but none in Australia. Finally I located a pre-loved copy at Gleebooks. They’re holding the book for me until I come by to collect it.

We turned our back on the British and begged to become an American colony in late December, 1941. If Roosevelt and MacArthur hadn’t rejected Prime Minister Curtin’s plea, I’d be reading Steiner’s novel tonight, instead of having to wait until tomorrow.

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It is also less than happy being a voracious reader (of English) in Korea. My poor brain.
*whimper, sob*

Posted by stavrosthewonderchicken on 25 March 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I didn't know Australia wanted to become an American colony. Damn. A little foresight 60 years ago, and Croc Hunter could be one of ours.

Posted by Meryl Yourish on 25 March 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour