Australian Booksellers Wary of Amazon's Arrival

In a strikingly in-depth article, the New York Times looks at what effect Amazon, which soon will open warehouses in Australia, will have on local bookselling and publishing. Many worry that publishers will give Amazon deals on price and delivery that make a mockery of any kind of level playing field. They also fear renewed threats to Australia's parallel importation laws, which blocks importation of foreign editions of new books if an Australian copyright holder publishes it within 30 days of release abroad or makes it available within 90 days. And they worry that Amazon will try to circumvent the country's tax and wage laws. (Average Australian wages are much higher than in the U.S.)

Altogether the worst-case picture would be Amazon selling books at deep discounts with quick delivery and importing from abroad, which could wreck both Australian publishing and bookselling.

But, as the Times emphasizes, Australian bookselling survived another American invasion: the arrival of Borders almost 20 years ago. And because it's so easy for Australians to buy books from Amazon in the U.S., the Australian book world has some experience competing with the behemoth.

The Times interviews a range of Australian indie booksellers, including Mark Rubbo, who has seven Readings bookstores in and around Melbourne. "I want to beat them," he said. "I don't like the idea of this monolith devouring everything."

David Gaunt, co-owner of Gleebooks in Sydney, commented: "Amazon controls the negotiating process. If they choose to sell the new Richard Flanagan book at $9.99, we'll sell none."

And author Tim Winton noted, "People who work in the book industry are agents of culture rather than just instruments of commerce. When you take away their role as agents of culture and reduce them to instruments of capitalism, it changes the dynamic." He added, "What makes me anxious is this sort of return to a centralizing of cultural power. It's a retrograde move."

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