Costs associated with online distribution of software and services can be the same as, if not higher than, selling through physical stores, according to the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA).
The IT industry organisation was speaking at the Federal Government inquiry into IT pricing in Sydney, which was launched earlier this year, addressing public concern over the high cost of IT-related products in Australia compared to other countries around the world.
Consumer organisation Choice recently identified that the price difference of IT goods between Australia and the US is around 50 per cent. The AIIA has since claimed this number is "fallacious", though it pointed out that a smaller population, the GST, higher wages, rent for retailers and high cost of honouring product warranties all contribute to Australians paying more for IT goods.
AIIA counts Microsoft, Apple and Adobe as its members. All three vendors refused to participate in the hearing, despite being singled out as the worst offenders of product pricing disparity in the past.
The internet has presented opportunities for vendors to disseminate software and services online, as a download or as a pay-as-you-go basis. But the savings from not having to provide a physical product are negligible when considering other associated costs, according to AIIA CEO, Suzanne Campbell.
"Online is no different to bricks and mortar, insofar as the need for basic R&D, product development, product management, sales and marketing endeavours," Campbell said. "To that extent, the costs in Australia for the provision of those online operations are at the same high cost as for bricks and mortar, or perhaps even higher, where the skills involved are more specialist."
Another problem, according to the AIIA, is that in the case of software-as-a-service product, many software vendors and service providers do not host their products locally, due to higher operational and labour costs. This limits deployment and adds complexities.
Australian datacentres have yet to prove that they can operate at the same scale and with the same availability as international competitors, Campbell said.
Campbell did, however, admit that geo-blocking, where software vendors restrict Australian consumers from accessing their US-based websites, which may sell their products at a lower price, could be looked at.
"[Geo-blocking] definitely warrants scrutiny," Campbell said. "The challenge for us though, is that these arrangements are legacies of older times, when we were seeking to protect Australian content."
"So to the extent we are prepared to be exposed to a global market, then there may be a basis for negotiating a different outcome with international providers for comparable content."
The parliamentary hearing continues.