Worse than iTunes?: The Great Aussie Cookbook Rort

Getting ripped off is a daily part of the Australian experience: the price for living in the one remaining OECD nation that’s not a complete economic basket case is that we pay well over the odds for the same products as our friends in other countries. Sometimes it is graspy, tax-hungry governments jacking up the price of something for our own individual or collective good: The family auto cost us a good deal more than it would have elsewhere in the world, thanks to import duties and a “luxury car tax” implemented to teach us to buy Australian and  stop being such a bunch of show-offy Pricks. A bottle of gin costs twice as much in Sydney as it does in New York, presumably to discourage Australians from becoming a bunch of soaks. And let’s not even get started on iTunes.

Books, too, are ridiculously expensive, and much of the blame for that falls on Australia’s restrictive parallel importation laws. But what of books produced here?

Fossicking around Kinokuniya the other day I had a look at Peter Gilmore’s Quay cookbook, wondering if it was something I should add to my library despite that ridiculous snow egg dessert’s appearance on the equally-ridiculous Australian MasterChef. (All one needs to know on the subject is that friends of the Prick, celebrating one of their 40th birthdays at Quay recently, witnessed an NRL star and his WAG asking a waiter to photograph them with the dish.) Still, the book looked worthwhile, until I saw the pricetag: $95!

Which seems like kind of a spicy meatball, especially when one considers it is published by a local Australian imprint, Murdoch Books, which set this ridiculously high RRP.

What makes it worse is that if you go over to Amazon, the book can be yours for a little over $50 plus shipping – quite a difference.

To put it another way, it is cheaper to buy a book that has been shipped to the States and back than it is to buy a copy that has only been driven, essentially, down the road.

As it’s a local product, parallel importation can’t be the whole story. Is it just an opportunistic publisher trying to stuff its boots with whatever the market will bear? I’ve put the question to Murdoch Books but have not yet had a reply, though I’ll post anything that comes back to me on this.

In the meantime, anyone with thoughts or experience with the issue care to weigh in?

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9 Responses to Worse than iTunes?: The Great Aussie Cookbook Rort

  1. Ben Hourigan says:

    A range of other factors could be in play. In general, increased costs relative to the US: from higher wages and rent, and from poorer economies of scale that lead to less efficient and more expensive printing, distribution and retail. There’s also the issue of comparison with the price of goods and services in general: there is the impetus to charge “what the market will bear,” and if Kinokuniya finds that it maximizes profit by selling books such as this at a $95 price point they will do so.

    This may be a strategic error, though. I got far enough into one of BCG’s strategy books to see that you are supposed to price low at first to gain market share and bump off your competitors. It seems likely be that Australian booksellers will find themselves run out of business by overseas competitors selling at unmatchable prices. Australian publishers and booksellers certainly do not seem to enjoy any kind of comparative advantage.

  2. This is the only book I’d consider forking out so much for.I spent $100 on an earlier edition which was subsequently damaged when the garage flooded a few years ago.

    I was gutted then, and still have the water-logged one. Need to get a new one.

    Plus, I’ve already got over about 30 cookbooks I don’t use, so why would I want one more?

  3. Eric says:

    I am an ebook purchaser these days, cookbooks are great on the iPad and useful on the phone when shopping for ingredients. If the only option is a physical copy I tend to buy from Amazon for the price point and better service.

    I do not know what other peoples’ experience is, I have had only bad service from bookstores in my town.
    If I want to order a book I always seem to place the order a day after they have ordered from the distributor and it will be a month until my order is placed and no they cannot ring and add my book to the order. Then of course it will take a month to arrive after that. When I point out I can get it from Amazon in 2 weeks tops I am told to go and do it if you don’t like our service. OK. Done. I do not walk in their book stores anymore.

    I have had similar experiences buying joysticks for video gaming. There used to be a manufacturer in Nerang Qld and it was half price to buy their sticks from the US than to ring them up and have them ship one to you. When I was on the phone and pointed this out they disconnected the call.

    I expect the publishers are charging whatever they can get away with, like the current agency pricing deals at the moment. Globalisation cuts both ways. Export our jobs overseas then shut your mouth when I buy overseas because of the cost.

  4. DMS says:

    This issue genuinely confuses me, in that it still continues. The in-laws wanted to get me Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine for Christmas last year, but bookstores that did have it wanted $125!

    They got it from Amazon.co.uk for UKP 24 (now 26) with free delivery at the time (a limited promotion that was admittedlyprobably a loss leader ). Less than a third!

    Examples like this are many, varied and easy to find.

    Creative destruction brought about by the internets has not yet broken this flawed business model in Australia, and the rent seekers are trying to prop it up, but it can’t last much longer. My confusion is why it has persisted so long.

  5. DMS says:

    Eric’s point on the convenience of an iPad for cooking is well made actually – and the screen wipes off rather than stains.

    I have a newly-found sympathy for stores that can’t “add something to an order” though after dealing with an IT implementation in an FMCG environment. As the trader working with a mutinational we have to cancel the entire order and resubmit the whole thing (i.e. key it in again if manual) if we change an order with them, as “their IT system can’t change orders once submitted”. resubmitting an order can result in later delivery dates for teh whole thing because you go to the bottom of the queue. Ordering that single item by itself “out of cycle” is not economical because you pay a delivery charge for just that item (which usually has a minimum).

    Of course the store assistant may not know all that, so just says “rules say “no” “.

    • Eric says:

      Your order theory is certainly correct given how many back end ordering systems are 20+ year old DOS based systems not given to multitasking and minimum order requirements. I would not be annoyed had I been told this.

      The only problem with the iPad and buying Ebooks from Amazon is the lack of copy paste. I would love an app that worked within the Kindle app to allow me to copy a recipe and ingredients list to a workbook so the rights holders can be assured there is no piracy.

      I know I can remove the DRM if need be though it is a lot of effort.

  6. Sasha Castel says:

    I have a network of “mules” in the USA who ship me things unavailable or overpriced in my adopted land. I also stock up when I go visit dad, although my favorite NYC bookstore is closed (Barnes & Noble at 66th and Broadway, once home to the best selection of arts books in the area). Also, Kindle is a godsend for regular books, although cookbooks are not suited to the format.

  7. Deadman says:

    I buy most of my books these days from Book Depository, in the UK. Prices are often substantially discounted, are usually better than Amazon’s and, though now owned by Amazon, the shipping is free.

  8. WhaleHunt Fun says:

    It is possible the book, though written in Australia is printed both here and in the USA which would mean that the $50 book was not shipped to the USA and back again, merely shipped one way.
    I have no problem with the booksellers gouging. Evil capitalist that I am, I would gouge you too if the government legislated me the right to do so.
    The people you should be upset with are the strange Labor and Greens that voted to maintain this vile arrangement recently. So much for supporting the voting public.

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