Friday, June 29, 2012

There's a reason why books in Australia cost more

It's called Perth. Also Darwin, Broome, Far North Queensland and Hobart.

Australia is a big country - as large in land mass as the continental USA. Our eastern seaboard is heavily populated and also the location of our major publishers and their warehouses. There are no warehouses in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania or Far North Queensland. Yet books that are released in Sydney and Melbourne on, say, 1 August still need to be available in these other places - and rural and regional centres - on that same publication day. Usually the only way to get the books to those places on time is by aeroplane. Aeroplanes, obviously, cost more than the trucks that are taking the books from the warehouses to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. The cost of those aeroplanes is factored into the recommended retail price of each book you buy.

When I mentioned this to someone recently she asked why people in Perth couldn't just pay more for their books - and it wasn't because this person presumed that everyone in Perth has Mining Money. It was her reaction to living in Sydney and having to pay what she considered to be too high a price for books. Well, yes, they do seem expensive. And it's not just because they have to get to Perth.

While we have the land mass of the USA we have, of course, a far smaller population than the USA. Therefore we don't enjoy the economies of scale that arise from shipping books to ten times as many people over the same area. We have a small population for such a big place. If we were shipping 10 000 copies of each book to Perth instead of 1000, economies of scale dictate that we'd be paying less for each copy of that book. But we're not.

Yes, the GST is a factor in the price of books. These freight costs are also a factor. And no doubt you're going to say, 'Well, then, ebooks can be so much cheaper!' Yes, they can be cheaper but publishers are still trying to work out how they can stomach dropping a book's price from $35 for a paper copy to something drastically less for an electronic copy and still keep their shareholders happy. It's a process. We're in the middle of it. Publishers shouldn't be shouted at, because from what I can tell they're genuinely trying to work out a way forwards. And we'll get there in the end - the market will force a solution if the industry can't come up with one on its own.


Brendan said...

If it were only that, it would be something I could understand and it may well be true for Australian published books.

What your explanation doesn't cover is the pricing of Australian distributed foreign releases. I went to a specialist bookseller for a book which had to be ordered from overseas. When I got the US edition rather than the UK one I asked why. It was because the UK edition had to be ordered through an Aus distributor, was the reply, and the distributor tacks on about $6 to the cost of the book.

skink said...

hello from Perth.

I'm not sure that this is a valid argument, since I buy my books from Powells in the US, and can buy the book and get it shipped half way around the world and it's still cheaper than buying it in my local bookshop (and I live in the only suburb that has two local bookshops)

and how do you explain the price difference on Kindle books? I just had to pay $19 for Adele Ferguson's biography of Rhinehart. No other country gets gouged like that.

Unknown said...

I really can't see that shipping costs is a valid reason.

Clearly it is more expensive (per book) to ship a single book from the otherside of the world .. yet it is still much cheaper for me to buy a book from the UK and get them to ship it to me personally. If shipping costs were the reason then it would be impossible to get it cheaper by using a method (individual international shipping) that is more expensive.

I'm not sure it makes sense to expect a special explanation as to why books are more expensive in Australia. After all - everything is more expensive. Why should books be an exception?

The fact that products such as software with zero real shipping costs is much more expensive (and always has been) should make it clear that whatever the 'Australia is expensive' factor truly is .. it isn't related to shipping costs.

There have been a few software packages I've kept my eye on that resolved the issue - the Australian price has come down to match the US one.

The reason? Not shipping costs. Simply competition - the main distributor in Australia realised that they couldn't keep their inflated markups and has dropped their price to match.


Anonymous said...

Also, why do domestically published books cost less when shipped from Oz to the US and back again via Amazon? Murdoch Books sells, to take one small example, the Quay cookbook for $95 here, while it's about $55 on Amazon. What gives?

Unknown said...

I am Student from Pakistan and I want to get higher education from Queens Land University at Perth.
I want Shipping to Australia my all books because here books are costly and I am already going on Scholarship:)