If you’ve been following our blog for a while then you’d know that digital media distribution within Australia is a subject that is quite close to our hearts. We’ve discussed it in relation to the problems being faced by Game, why we love Zune Pass on Windows Phones, our distinct lack of video streaming services in Australia and most recently regarding our excitement at Spotify’s impending, if ambiguously scheduled, release.
Specifically in our article regarding Game, we discussed the sometimes huge differences in price between a product sold in Australia and the same product sold elsewhere in the world. Traditionally, Aussies have had to shell out cash in larger quantities for products and services that other nations see for a fraction of the price. In the past this was seen as a necessary evil of living in a remote country. The cost of shipping a product to Australia, an often distant country that offers a relatively small potential customer base, is a more than satisfactory reason for jacking prices up. Not only did the products need to be physically transferred here, but then also transported all around our massive nation to our spread-out population.
In the digital age we haven’t seen a particularly large drop in this trend. For a while, in the gaming industry, consumers benefitted from digitally-downloadable copies of video game titles, receiving similar prices to other countries like the US or UK. However, even this practice has recently started to revert to its less-balanced past with prices starting to approach their old levels down-under.
Companies like Apple and Microsoft are also guilty of charging Australian customers significantly more for non-gaming digital products. The general claim made by such companies is that the cost of setting up support centres, local taxes & duties and the small size of the Australian market call for greater prices. It’s a fair enough argument, but when you actually sit down and look at the numbers it immediately begins to lose its validity.
In a picture posted by the SMH last Tuesday, prices of Microsoft Office 2010 Professional, Mac OSX Server v10.6 Snow Leopard and the album Greatest Hits of Richard Claption on iTunes are compared. The comparison was as follows:
Microsoft Office 2010 Professional
- US – $349
- AUS – $849
Mac OSX Server v10.6 Snow Leopard (by Apple)
- US – $499
- AUS – $699
Greatest Hits of Richard Claption on iTunes
- US – $9.99
- AUS – $24
As you can see the prices are substantially different. So different, in fact, that one has to wonder how this kind of thing has been going on for so long.
The simplest answer is that Australians are just used to paying more for the same product. We’ve done it for as long as we can remember, so even now that we’ve entered the age of digital distribution we’ve reached a point where many of us aren’t even questioning how much our products cost in comparison to global pricing standards.
Luckily for Australia as a whole, many of the younger generation have apparently been vocally opposing the trend. It’s become enough of an issue that the Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, has signed off on a parliamentary inquiry on the matter. Major software and IT-related companies will be asked to explain their current digital marketing model and justify the high cost of digital products supplied to Australian customers.
Right now everything is in the preliminary stages, but it’s extremely reassuring to see that the government has finally turned its attention towards regulating digital distribution on behalf of the Australian population, rather than focusing on protecting the digital rights of businesses with things like anti-piracy laws. After all, one of the best ways to fight piracy is to offer a better distribution network to the population. Once media content becomes both easier and cheaper to get hold of there’s a likely chance that piracy will drop.
We don’t expect piracy to stop or even be significantly affected; we don’t really think that anything can stop it at this point. But actions like this serve to not only protect the Australian population from paying inflated costs for standard products, but encourage Internet users to start focusing on more mainstream avenues for the appropriation of digital entertainment mediums.
We’re 100% behind parliament’s decision to finally look in to this matter. It took them long enough and there’s no guarantee that anything will come of it, but for now we’re going to remain cautiously optimistic that the spotlight is, for once, focusing on the right issues when it comes to the World Wide Web in Australia.