New Zealand’s technology press took little notice of the latest hearing at Australia’s parliamentary inquiry into technology price gouging. That’s odd, because it has implications for the way we buy technology.
On Friday Canberra ordered in three senior executives for a grilling on why their companies charge Australians more than Americans for the same products and services. In some cases they charge Australians much more than US prices. New Zealanders usually pay the same or higher prices than Australians.
Two of the three executives have responsibility for their company’s New Zealand operations. The third is a New Zealander by birth. Tony King is Apple vice-president for Australia, New Zealand and South Asia. Paul Robson is Adobe managing director for Australia and New Zealand, South East Asia and Korea. Microsoft Australia managing director Pip Marlow comes from New Zealand.
The parliamentary committee had invited all three companies to take part in the inquiry, but despite several requests they all avoided the hearings. Last month the inquiry issued a summons for them to appear.
Apple comes out of the inquiry with its reputation intact. Most Apple products sell for roughly the same price in Australian and New Zealand as in the US. Itunes songs, movies and TV shows are more expensive in this part of the world, but Apple’s Tony King says that’s down to the rights holders.
In contrast Adobe looks worse than ever. Company boss Paul Robson failed to explain why the standard edition of Creative Suite 6 costs almost twice as much in Australia as in America. He mentioned some nonsense about a “personalised” and “localised” web experience the company serves up to Australian customers.
To a New Zealander, that looks hypocritical – we don’t get a personalised or localised experience. Visit Adobe.co.nz and you’ll see an Australian site designed for Australians with Australian prices.
Microsoft’s Pip Marlow also struggled to articulate a case for higher prices in Australia than in the US or Singapore. In effect she told the hearing that Microsoft charges what the market will bear.
There’s little scope for the inquiry to force companies to change their price gouging in Australia. The politicians could make geoblocking illegal, which means Australians may be able to download software and content at US-prices. None of this is likely to happen as Australia looks to be heading for a change of government in September.
For my money, the transparency of getting this issue out into the open is a good thing. The exercise is good theatre, but it also helps us learn how big technology companies are thinking and that gives us information to make better buying decisions.