I spoke in parliament yesterday about getting Australians a better deal on Kindle books.
Amazon.com’s Kindle Pricing Policies
House of Representatives, 28 June 2012
Access to many and affordable books is an important component of a civilised society. It is through books that children are exposed to new ideas and it is through books that many of us as adults broaden our experience. Indeed, one of the last things I wrote while as an academic was a survey of the books that federal parliamentarians were then reading which turned into an article with my friend Macgregor Duncan. Reading opens new worlds and makes us better people. It is in that vein that I urge the House to place pressure on Amazon.com to provide better and cheaper access to books through the Amazon Kindle.
I draw the House’s attention to three ways that Australians are restricted in their access to one of the world’s largest collections of e-books. The first is limitations on access to the Kindle itself. While Australians have access to some Kindle models, others—the Kindle Fire, for example—will not be delivered to Australia. Such is the limitations that Amazon has placed on its deliveries that third parties have now set up with the sole purpose of forwarding on Amazon products from US addresses to Australian addresses. It should not be that way. Australians should have access to the Kindle Fire as well.
More important is access to the range of books that are provided on the Kindle. According to Delimiter figures, if one looks at fiction books, a United States Kindle reader can access 501,610 books; an Australian reader, 456,237 books—a difference of 45,000 books available to US readers but not Australian readers. For nonfiction, the gap is larger: US readers get access to 930,139 titles; Australians to 723,852 titles—a difference of 206,000 titles. For magazines: 450 titles available to US readers and 183 for Australian Kindle readers—a difference of 267. So fewer books are available to Australian readers. Australian Kindle readers are unable to access the full Amazon catalogue.
In addition, some books are more expensive for Australian readers than they are for United States Kindle readers. For example, quoting prices in US dollars: Gone with the Wind, $14.05 for an Australian reader, $13.99 for a US reader, $12.71 for a UK reader; The Colour Purple, $12.04 for an Australian reader, $8.50 for a US reader, $7.94 for a UK reader; and, appropriately enough, The Book Thief, $12.93 for an Australian reader, $9.99 for a US reader, $7.83 for a UK reader. Some books are cheaper in Australia, but the analysis done by teleread.com suggests that for many books Australians are paying higher prices than Europeans, Latin Americans and people in the United States.
Expanding access to a larger catalogue of Kindle books is absolutely essential since the world is moving to an e-book world. Paper books will exist for some time to come, but increasingly younger readers will begin on e-books and that will be their entire experience. Having access to the world’s knowledge at an economical price is important for our education system and also for the strength of the Australian economy. Part of the problem is the limitations of copyright law that allow territorial restrictions imposed by e-book retailers seeking to limit access; however, part of it is simple differential pricing, and I urge Amazon to abandon it. I commend the member for Chifley for his work on access to digital products for Australians in general and urge the committee that has been established on his instigation to include e-books in its remit. Access to the world’s knowledge is as important as access to the world’s music, and Australians have a right to be treated equitably by Amazon.com.
A few weeks ago, I wrote to Amazon seeking comment on these issues, but received no response.