Parallel imports and books (again)

Professor Joshua Gans published an opinion piece railing in the Age against the laws restricting parallel imports of book (via his blog here).

The burden of his argument is that it is absurd and outrageous that he can’t even download an electronic copy of the book he authored for use on his Kindle here.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m very frustrated not to be able to buy anything on a Kindle here (when I’m not dreaming about what an Apple iTablet might be). It is absurd. It is outrageous.

He says:

So why is it possible for hard copies of books to move across international borders but not electronic copies? The answer is that publishers, who have intellectual monopolies over these works, for their own reasons have not done the deals to make it possible. Regardless of what I, as an author, might like, a gatekeeper is standing between my readers and my book.

But, this doesn’t have anything to do with the laws on parallel imports. As he points out, even under the laws he is trying to bring to an end, you, he and I can parallel import physical copies of his book.

Rather, the problem is that, he negotiated split publishing rights – University of NSW for Australia and The MIT Press for (at least) North America – presumably in the hope that the two publishers would maximise his returns from the different markets and he didn’t negotiate a global electronic rights deal.

Now, maybe he would say he tried and the publishers refused or, more likely, even if one gave a single publisher the global electronic publishing rights, maybe they would still parcel up the world into individual territories.

If you can do a deal to co-publish with 2 physical publishers, why not with a third electronic publisher like Amazon’s Kindle? Why not do the deal with Amazon’s Kindle (or someone like that) first and then line up the physical publisher?