news A number of global technology vendors likely to be hauled before Australia’s Parliament to justify their local price markups have grudgingly and briefly signalled their acceptance of the proceedings and willingness to participate, although some have completely refused to comment on the issue.
In late April, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy confirmed the Government would hold an official parliamentary inquiry into the issue of technology companies marking up goods and services for Australia, following a long-running campaign by Federal Labor MP Ed Husic.
Husic (pictured right) has been raising the issue in Parliament and publicly since the beginning of 2011 (he was elected in the 2010 Federal Election), in an attempt to get answers from technology giants such as Adobe, Microsoft, Apple and others as to why they felt it was appropriate to price products significantly higher in Australia (even after taking into consideration factors such as exchange rates and shipping) than the United States.
Just last week, for example, global software giant Adobe continued a long-running tradition of extensively marking up its prices for the Australian market, revealing that locals would pay up to $1,400 more for the exact same software when they buy the new version 6 of its Creative Suite platform compared to residents of the United States.
After the inquiry was announced, Delimiter invited global vendors Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, Lenovo and Amazon, which are some of the most visible companies selling high-profile technology goods and services to Australians, whether they would commit to attending the parliamentary inquiry if invited, and whether they had any other statement to make on the matter.
The results were brief.
“Adobe Systems will co-operate with any parliamentary inquiry as required,” said an Adobe spokesperson. “We are not making any further statement at this time.”
Microsoft is charging Australian software developers about 83 percent more than their US counterparts to access subscription services associated with its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) platform, and also charges higher prices for software products and cloud computing offerings.
A spokesperson for the Redmond, US-based company said: “Microsoft will review the Parliamentary Committee’s terms of reference when available and will respond to the Inquiry.”
Lenovo and Amazon are both represented in Australia by the public relations agency Text100. The company acknowledged the receipt of queries on the matter of the price inquiry, but did not respond with comments on the matter. Spokespeople for Apple did not acknowledge the receipt of Delimiter’s queries and did not issue a comment on the matter.
PC manufacturer Lenovo has in the past attempted to defend of its Australian pricing, despite in 2011 launching its flagship new ThinkPad X1 laptop in Sydney for$560 more than the same hardware will cost in the United States. Apple also commonly charges more for its products in Australia, although the company has made some moves towards international price harmonisation over the past year. Amazon’s prices are the subject of less complaints by Australians than the other vendors mentioned in this article, but price differences on the company’s extremely popular eBooks offerings do exist, despite the content being the same between jurisdictions.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which has indicated that it is following the issues the IT price hike inquiry is raising, is also interested in the eBook issue. In mid-April, the regulator noted it was considering its options on the issue of eBook pricing, following a lawsuit filed by the US Justice Department against Apple and five global book publishers on the issue of price fixing.
I am disappointed in the muted reaction which we’ve seen from these massive technology vendors on the issue of IT price hikes in Australia so far. This is an issue for the entire technology sector to ponder, and we really need these companies to be open and honest about how they set pricing so the debate on the issue can be on an honest grounding.
It is possible that the parliamentary inquiry approved by Conroy will broadly find that vendors such as Adobe and Microsoft have been doing nothing wrong when it comes to their Australian pricing, and that their honest testimony will vindicate their actions. We need to keep an open mind with respect to this possibility. But the unwillingness of the vendors to comment on the issue will only lead to an impression that they have something to hide.
Image credit: Still from Gladiator