Sydney Opera House at nightThe Melbourne Herald Sun has a brief story on an Australian government report suggesting that books cost too much Down Under and recommending lifting parallel import restrictions. The report from the Australian Government Productivity Commission looked at book prices in Australia, the US, and the UK over two years and found that, for titles available both locally and abroad, it was often cheaper to import titles from overseas than to buy from local publishers.

The report recommended allowing retailers to order books in bulk from overseas, rather than being legally required to order from local publishers. This would effectively duplicate the Kirtsaeng ruling, in which the US Supreme Court found it was legal for a student to import and resell cheaper foreign editions of US textbooks from overseas. It’s currently legal for Australians to buy books individually from overseas, but not for commercial entities to buy in bulk.

That only applies to physical books, of course. Because e-books have their own territorial rights issues, Australians can only buy e-books from Australian e-book vendors—who charge the same high prices down there as the publishers do for paper books. This has been a known issue for a while—in 2012, an Australian government committee started looking into digital price discrimination; in 2014, a study found that 79% of Australians were concerned about being overcharged for digital products—and also noted that it could be less expensive to import these goods from overseas.

“In a world where the internet has reduced delivery costs it seems ridiculous that it can be cheaper to order a hard-copy product and have it shipped to Australia than it is to download a digital file.”

I’m pretty sure I covered another Australian whitepaper for TeleRead at some point that recommended permitting piracy for items that cost too much in Australia, but I can no longer find it so it may have disappeared in one of our updates. (If anyone knows where to find it on so I can link it there, let me know.)

Australian authors and publishers are upset by the possibility of the government allowing parallel importation of physical books. They feel that it would threaten the well-being of the Australian publishing industry—which, to be fair, it probably would. But even if it was allowed, that wouldn’t directly affect the price of Australian e-books, as there is no possible equivalent to parallel importation in that situation.


  1. Australia is in a mess when it comes to digital products and even p-books.

    Australia is always highlighted as one of the biggest pirating nations.

    The consumer in Australia complains about restrictions to shows due to geo-restrictions and over-pricing by content providers.


    1. Music and movies are more expensive on the Australian itunes than on the American itunes.
    2. Movies and shows are not released in Australia at the same time as other countries.
    3. With books and e-books. The Parallel Importing Restrictions actually raises their prices in Australia to ‘protect local authors and publishers’. (
    4. Netflix’s library in Australia is very limited.
    5. If you were a business and wanted to buy the full Adobe suite, it was actually cheaper to fly an employee over to the US to buy it, rather than buy it in Australia (

    So with these sorts of examples, what is the reaction by Australian book consumers?

    The Book Depository is a major book retailer in Australia even though it has no presence in Australia. It is usually cheaper to buy a book from the Book Depository than to walk into a local bookstore in Australia. The irony is that you can get books by Australian authors cheaper from the Book Depository than from a local bookstore. e.g. Tim Winton’s Island Home in Hardcover, is available at Dymocks for A$39.99 while at the Book Depository it is A$30.59, delivered free to your home.

    Physical bookstores are very few and far between. Booksellers have endured a tough time in Australia and still do as people buy from overseas. Some chains have gone out of business (Angus & Robertson, Borders and the ABC shops)

    E-books are much dearer in Australia than overseas, encouraging some people to go the pirating route. In the US the talk is about the US$9.99 price point for e-books. In Australia, no major book is available at that price point. It is always much higher.

    There is a large number of people who are savvy enough to use VPNs to view and download all sorts of digital media. Some will try to pay (e.g. some sign up to Netflix US, but even they are getting geoblocked these days), others just pirate the product.

    These issues have been highlighted for over a decade but nothing has ever come out of it. Successive governments just keep the status quo. This is because of the pressure these governments are under when signing up to free trade agreements and from the bigger publishers and media companies. There have been several government funded studies into these problems, but very little comes out of them. The main argument is that if they lower book prices then bookstores will go out of business and there will be many jobs losses.

    Well, bookstores are closing, jobs are being lost and Australians are getting their books from overseas options (either paid or free).

  2. There’s probably a Catch-22 going on. High domestic prices tend to co-exist with high piracy rates, and in this case a legal form of smuggling. It also tends to make domestic businesses dependent on those legal protections and less able to compete. In the long run, even they are hurt. Protectionism never works for long.

    Hayden does well to mention The Book Depository. It seems to have a deal with the UK Royal Mail that permits it to ship print books to virtually the entire world without a shipping charge. Perhaps the books ship space available on scheduled flights. Here’s a list of those countries, including Australia.

    Look down that page and you’ll find that it has so many Australian customers, it ships directly from there, typically in 2-4 days. Shipping to the U.S. takes 8-12 business days, so those books must come from the U.K.

    As an author, I’m delighted knowing that all my books are available from The Book Depository. That means that almost anyone on the planet can buy them easily and cheaply. But I curse the day when the UK allowed Amazon to buy The Book Depository. Amazon needs competition overseas as well as here. For a time The Book Depository was offering that competition.
    Those who’d like to see what ebook costs are like in Australia on the iBookstore and who own Mac can easily change their iBooks country and see. Details here:

    Once you’ve done that, follow the same process to change iBooks back to your home country. Apple’s book upload software tilts toward keeping the pricing similar in every country.

    I might add that if you’re an author who wants to send review copies of your books outside your own country, you may find that it’s cheaper to pay full retail at The Book Depository and have them handle the shipping than to get your discounted copy and pay the often high rates to ship books internationally.

    It is a crazy world we live in.


  3. The saddest thing is that writers here in Australia, as well as our “advocate” the Australian Society of Authors are pushing – shouting even – the publishers’ line that the current rules are protecting Australian writers. It’s simply not true. When an Australian book is only available either in over-priced print or over-priced eBook (if. it’s in ebook at all) most readers won’t pay more, they’ll simply by a non-Australian author. The myopic practices of Australian publishers are the threat to Australian literature and writers. Writers need to start understanding that publishers’ interests are NOT equivalent to writers’ interests, indeed, Publishing’s business model has always relied on the exploitation of their “content creators”. If we writers should ally ourselves with any group, it’s the readers who truly appreciate our work (and would be appalled at how little of the outrageous price they pay for Australian books actually goes to authors).

    • So True, so many books in Australia are expensive and there is no difference between a local author or an overseas one. There is no incentive to buy from a local author.

      Then, because so many books are so expensive, Australian readers look to buy from overseas. They quickly find many excellent authors at very reasonable prices. How does this help local authors?

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