The Rudd Government has announced plans to set up a special book group to protect Australia's $1.5 billion industry from the emerging global threats of ebooks and online buying.
The Book Industry Strategy Group, which will have access to an existing $50-million-a-year government fund aimed at aiding business transformation, has been given the task of ensuring the sector survives by taking advantage of the move towards the digital age.
In a speech announcing the group, Innovation Minister Kim Carr said the internet offered the possibility for publishers to try new things. "[It] opens up huge opportunities — to develop new products and services, to increase accessibility, and to reduce prices," he said.
"It took 10 years for the internet to reach 16 per cent of Australian homes. A decade later it had reached 72 per cent. If ebooks follow the same trajectory, the book industry as we know it could be gone in my lifetime.
"The written word may be almost as old as human civilisation itself but this doesn't mean we can ignore the very real and rapid advances being made in digital publishing technologies," he concluded. "We must be prepared to seize the opportunities the digital revolution is offering."
The composition of the taskforce will be determined at a later date and in consultation with the industry, but it will likely be made up of industry stakeholders. The group was due to report back to the government within a year.
The government last moved to protect the local book publishing industry in November, saying no to a Productivity Commission recommendation that it ease import restrictions.
In keeping the restrictions, a "30-day rule" remains in place that shields Australian publishers from imported copies if they publish titles within a month.
But although the decision was hailed by publishers, it was criticised by many book retailers, which say the changes would have resulted in cheaper books and that local retail jobs are now on the line.