The Federal Government has formally responded to the recommendations made by the Book Industry Strategy Group (BISG) last year.
As previously reported by Bookseller+Publisher, the BISG made 21 recommendations in its final report to government, which was officially handed over in late 2011. The BISG sought $18.5 million in specific additional funding as well as the reallocation of $30 million over three years from the existing Digital Education Revolution funding, and the allocation of $5 million from the $50 million fund currently allocated to the Promotion of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education program. However, the government has chosen not to allocate any new funding to the industry. The newly-created Book Industry Collaboration Council (BICC), one of the key recommendations of the BISG report, is to be funded from ‘existing resources’.
President of the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) Jon Page told Bookseller+Publisher that he knows ‘there has been some disappointment in the government's response to the BISG report’. Page said, however, that he believes ‘the creation of the BICC is a posititve step that will produce worthwhile outcomes for the book industry as a whole’.
Similarly, president of the Australian Publishers Association Maree McCaskill told Bookseller+Publisher that she is ‘delighted that at least the council has been established with a clear process and terms of reference’. ‘I am hopeful that this is the first step in genuine vision and collaboration,’ she said.
ABA CEO Joel Becker also welcomed the establishment of the BICC, telling Bookseller+Publisher that the ABA is particularly pleased that booksellers are among the members of the council and that David Throsby has been appointed to chair the council. Becker said that the ABA hopes that the issues that have been raised by the BISG will ‘get a good hearing over the coming year and into the future’ through the council.
The government has supported the BISG recommendation that it establish an industry-wide collaboration council and has announced the establishment of the Book Industry Collaboration Council (BICC). The council’s membership includes representatives from the publishing, bookselling, and printing industries, as well as representatives for authors and agents, libraries, the telecommunications industry, the research community and government. The council’s membership and terms of reference can be seen here.
The government said that the council will be funded ‘from within the existing resources of the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education’ and will be ‘supported by working groups’. The government said it supports the establishment of the council because ‘ongoing collaboration between the various parts of the book supply chain is vital to strengthening the position of the Australian book industry within a global market’, and similar supply chain bodies exist in other markets.
Addressing parallel importation restrictions, the government acknowledged the industry’s recent adoption of the Book Industry Speed to Market Initiative, which is based on the BISG recommendation that the timetable for the retention of territorial copyright be reduced from 30/90 days to 14/14 days. While the government noted that ‘this is an industry initiative and therefore must be driven by the industry’, it said that the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education ‘is able to work with industry stakeholders to progress this through a facilitation role’.
GST and postage
Addressing the recommendations related to the GST-free threshold, the government reiterated its response to the Productivity Commission’s public review into the Economic Structure and Performance of the Australian Retail Industry, which was conducted last year. The government said in December 2011 that it would establish a taskforce to investigate new approaches to the processing of low-value imported parcels, particularly those from overseas, and will ‘reassess the appropriateness of the [current] low-value import threshold’ when it receives a report from the taskforce. The taskforce has since been established and is expected to report to government in July.
The BISG recommended last year that the government enter into negotiations with the Universal Postal Union to amend postal treaties to ‘provide more equitable and competitive pricing for print post delivery, where Australia is currently severely disadvantaged’. While the government said it supports this recommendation ‘in principle’, it noted that ‘effecting this recommendation will require renegotiation of Australia’s terminal dues rate which is set by rules established through the Universal Postal Union Convention and Acts’.
‘The rates of payment to Australia Post for inward parcels are set using a formula linked to the domestic standard letter postage rate [of 60 cents],’ said the government. The government said that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is currently talking to members of the union ‘to agree [to] a different letter postage rate to be used for terminal dues’ but with 192 countries as members of the union, ‘negotiations are complex’. ‘Potential options outside of the union treaty arrangements are also being investigated by Australia’s designated operator, Australia Post,’ said the government.
The BISG made a number of recommendations relating to the printing industry including recommending that the government ‘allow necessary industry consolidation for large-scale book printers’ and ‘introduce a support package for displaced employees and regional communities’ which may be affected by the transition to digital. The BISG also recommended that the government ‘make the printing of a book in Australia a condition of receiving government assistance for developing and publishing a book’, as well as ‘assist the industry to promote the environmental and employment advantages of buying a book printed in Australia’.
The government said that the consolidation of large-scale printers is ‘a commercial decision’ for those involved. However, it added that 'the decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in 2007 preventing the merger of Griffin Press and McPherson's was based on the market conditions of the time' and 'would not preclude any future consolidation of large-scale printers'. As reductions in labour forces as a result of the adoption of new technologies are part of these commercial decisions, ‘the ramifications of this in terms of redundancies and other entitlement payments is the responsibility of employers’. 'With the information currently available, there is no evidence of market failure from the adoption of new technology and therefore, no rationale for direct Government intervention'.
The government said it currently provides a range of support programs ‘across a broad range of industries’ which are applicable to the book printing industry, however ‘consideration of specific government support programs’ for the industry ‘could be undertaken by the new Book Industry Collaboration Council’. The government also highlighted its Enterprise Connect regional development program, which supports 10 regional communities across Australia, including the Greater Victorian Goldfields region which is home to book printer McPherson’s Printing Group.
On assisting the industry ‘to promote the environmental and employment advantages of buying a printing book in Australia’, the government said it ‘recognises that the industry is taking the lead in the development of a tool which allows for the direct comparison of electronic books to printed books’ and that it understands that this tool will be presented to the Printing Industry Working Group, which was first established in 2008. The government said that PMP Limited, parent company of Griffin Press, ‘has been in the process of developing a carbon footprint tool which will allow electronic media to be compared to the comparative printed product’.
Schools and academic funding
The request for $10 million in government funding for a National University Press Network to subsidise, market and distribute university publications has not been supported by the government. The government encouraged the industry to explore digital publication, and said it was undertaking a review of the treatment of academic publications, including digital publications, this year.
The request for reallocation of $5 million from existing funding in higher education to support the development of teaching and learning materials has not been supported, nor has the request for the development of a particular reward/recognition system to promote ‘teaching excellence and authoring of quality educational materials’. The government noted the existing Promotion of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PELTHE) program, which ‘supports elements of this recommendation’.
The BISG also requested that the government reallocate $30 million over three years from the existing Digital Education Revolution funding for the purchase of digital teaching and learning materials for schools through a ‘market-based mechanism’. The government announced no change in its existing funding, noting that it ‘has committed $41.2 million to the development and delivery of digital teaching and learning resources aligned with the Australian Curriculum’ which will be managed through ‘Education Services Australia’.
The BISG also recommended the government ‘actively monitor implementation of the statutory licence for education’ (which seeks to balance the rights of copyright owners with the larger public interest in education, and was updated in 2000 to deal with digital technology). The government responded that mechanisms for monitoring the licence were already in place. However, it acknowledged that there were issues concerning digital technology, and added that the former Attorney-General Robert McClelland ‘has strongly encouraged author and publisher organisations to negotiate with the education sector to set fair conditions for digital uses of copyright material’.
The government has not supported the request for $5 million in funding for TitlePage’s digital infrastructure development at this stage. While the government said it ‘supports the principle’ of establishing appropriate digital infrastructure, it also ‘recognises that there are a range of solutions to addressing this identified need’. The government referred the recommendation to the BICC for further consideration.
The government has responded to the recommendation that the BICC work with Austrade on industry-wide export strategies by stating that Austrade is ‘opposed to developing long-term industry-wide export strategies’. Instead, the government listed a number of existing services, such as the Brand Australia Program, which it believes sufficiently support the book industry’s export efforts.
The government has also not supported the BISG recommendation to reinstate the collection of data on the book industry by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), saying that ‘the most cost-effective means of collection are available through industry sources’. Explaining the decision, the government said that ‘a survey of the Australian book market should ideally capture data on overseas as well as Australian-based retailers if it is to be fully effective.’ ‘The ABS’ legislative authority is limited to enterprises operating within Australian jurisdictions and therefore can provide only a partial view of market performance’. The government said, however, that it is ‘able to provide guidance to industry associations on survey design and implementation’.
In relation to the recommendation that the government consider ways in which the Public and Education Lending Rights (PLR/ELR) schemes can be modernised, including in the treatment of ebooks, the government said that it will examine the schemes, but that the industry ‘must first clarify and adopt a business model that is consistent with and meets the objectives of the schemes’.
The government has not supported recommendations relating to the introduction of specific digital skills training grants for the industry, making literary prizes tax free, additional funding for authors through the an Australia Council for the Arts review, and the creation of a National Book Council.