Local authors, book publishers and unions have secured a win over the major book retailing chains in their campaign to maintain restrictions on imports of cheaper foreign-published books.
The Federal Government this morning announced it would abandon proposed changes to Australia's book publishing regime that supporters say would have made books cheaper and more widely available but critics argued would harm the local publishing industry.
In announcing the decision, Consumer Affairs Minister Craig Emerson argued the growth of online retailers such as Amazon and electronic books such as Kindle would instead drive innovation and price reductions.
"In the circumstances of intense competition from online books and e-books, the Government judged that changing the regulations governing book imports is unlikely to have any material effect on the availability of books in Australia," Dr Emerson said in a statement.
Under the existing rules, a title qualifies for protection if the Australian publisher releases the book here within 30 days of its overseas release. Dr Emerson is believed to have explored a compromise that would have reduced this 30-day period to seven or 14 days.
But that plan, as well as an alternative proposal of a price cap similar to one in place in Canada, were rejected by the Government.
The decision means the Government will not go ahead with a planned new spending program for Australian authors and publishers, which had been recommended by the Productivity Commission to compensate the industry for the proposed changes.
The issue has divided cabinet, with economic ministers including Dr Emerson believed to favour reforms to the existing rules while other ministers had been sympathetic to authors, publishers and unions.
The Labor caucus and the ALP's national conference have also put pressure on cabinet not to adopt the commission's recommendations.
The Productivity Commission recommended in July that the parallel import restrictions be abolished.
It said this would put downward pressure on book prices and help local booksellers deal with the challenge of overseas retailers such as Amazon, which are allowed to supply cheaper foreign editions directly to Australian consumers.