Canadian bookstores should be at liberty to import books from the United States or elsewhere, without being required to buy them by way of a Canadian-based book publisher as the distributor. The trade barrier that now exists, and which raises the prices of books for consumers, should be repealed.
The near-parity of the Canadian and American dollars has heightened attention to this particular instance of cultural protectionism - notably among readers who can compare U.S. and Canadian prices, often printed on book covers. Some publishers have taken to showing only the Canadian price on covers, to prevent comparisons.
The Canadian Booksellers Association met with James Moore, the Minister of Heritage, on April 29, asking the federal government to reconsider the provisions of the Copyright Act that it says, rightly, are no longer commercially reasonable and should be removed.
The present regime favours both branch plants of foreign-owned publishers and Canadian-owned publishers that are also distributors for foreign firms under agency agreements. The Canadian-based publisher can charge up to 10 per cent more than the American price; if they charge more, then what the Copyright Act calls "parallel importation" is permitted - the same is true if a specific book is simply not being distributed.
In effect, this is a subsidy in favour of Canadian publishers, including the subsidiaries of American and other non-Canadian publishers - at the expense of book-buyers. No doubt, this has encouraged the publication of Canadian books, but in recent decades the success of Canadian literature has shown that the rationale for this trade barrier has withered away. Moreover, book-buyers can buy online from the United States and other countries.
Only a few weeks ago, the CBA was working, unsuccessfully, as it turned out, to oppose an application by Amazon.ca, an American-owned online bookstore, to open a warehouse and distribution centre in Canada. The CBA's turn against protectionism, though self-interested, is welcome.
The loss of a largely hidden subsidy to Canadian-based publishers will cause some pain, but booksellers are increasingly hearing the judgment of Canadian readers, who want to be treated fairly. The customers are right.
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