Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Discount
What happens when a big retail bookstore also happens to be a book publisher? Well, in order to drive out competition the publisher can price its books below cost. The collateral damage to the author and reader community can be devastating. The reduced list price means a commensurate cut in royalty paid to authors. Independent bookstores are driven out of business. And without independent stores, less prosperous customers no longer have access to the books they seek.
Does this sound like a familiar pattern? Yes – except it’s taking place in Israel. And, unlike the reluctance of American and other governments to roll back predatory practices, Israeli lawmakers are proposing strong measures to restore fair trade.
Maya Sela of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports a bill making its way through the country’s legislature stating that “books cannot be sold for less than their list price for the first 18 months after publication.” The bill also “sets minimum royalties to be paid to authors during that period.”
The minister sponsoring the bill described the current situation, in which the country’s two major bookstore chains have been beating each other’s brains out with loss leaders, “intolerable. Books are devalued when they are sold for less than it costs to print them. This is abnormal and illogical.”
It seems illogical to us too but it’s hard to imagine legislation as enlightened as the Israelis’ to be adopted anywhere else. But who knows? Maybe the law will serve as a light to other nations? It wouldn’t be the first time.
The bill was endorsed by the committee that drafted it and now goes to the Knesset for a vote.