(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Claiming it is harming authors and inflating prices, MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) told a Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee meeting on Wednesday the Books and Authors Law, which is half way through a trial period, should be abandoned early.
“We are in a country that believes in a free market, believes in competition, and believes in minimal intervention in these things,” Kisch said.
Intervention in the book market is completely against these values, as Israel is regulating artificially high prices on the book market, he added.
The law, which went into effect in February of 2014 for a three-year trial period, is an attempt to break up the duopoly in the book market made up of Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim and encourage a free market in the field.
MKs present at the meeting, however, clashed over how a law so intrusive in the market could possibly allow for an open playing field.
According to the law, stores and publishers are not allowed to encourage salespeople to promote specific books and shops are required to give equal prominence to books from all publishers and not display only those of well known writers.
In addition, stores and publishers are required to reach agreements on the kinds of discounts that can be put on books that are over 18 months old, while prohibiting sales on newer books other than during Hebrew Book Week.
It also regulates the royalties received by authors.
New writers, Kisch said, are harmed by the law because they are not accepted by publishers who find it too difficult to sell their books for high prices in direct competition with established authors.
“People aren’t buying books,” said MK Merav Ben- Ari (Kulanu), who called for fixing the law to address these issues.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Orly Froman, director- general of the Culture and Sport Ministry, and Danny Tal, who is in charge of implementing the law at the Economy Ministry, stated emphatically that it is too early to discuss abandoning the legislation.
Froman claimed that sales immediately following implementation of the law were hurt by aggressive book sales by stores prior to its enactment, adding that other external factors make it difficult to evaluate the law after just a year and a half, saying the market has yet to get used to the new regulations.
The drop in book sales was smaller than what was expected following the enactment of the law and the duopoly has shrunk, as the law intended, they said.
According to a survey done this month by the Israel Consumer Council, presented to chair of the committee MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas), 38 percent of respondents said they bought fewer Hebrew language books over the year or none at all, compared to previous years. Of those, 46% stated it was because of high prices or lack of sales.
Approximately half of the respondents said that over the past year they had bought fewer books – or none at all – by authors they don’t know, with 23% of these indicating it was because of high costs or lack of sales.
Froman noted at the meeting that Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev has established a committee to examine the law based on responses from publishers, authors and others affected by it, which will work throughout the month of August to complete its recommendations.