(photo credit: HANAN COHEN)
A government committee will review the law regulating book prices and authors’ royalties, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said Wednesday, at the start of Hebrew Book Week.
“The People of the Book deserve books at affordable prices,” Regev said at a special meeting in the Knesset to discuss the Books and Authors Law, which the minister said cast a shadow over Book Week festivities.
“I am very concerned by the ramifications of the law,” she added.
“Fewer citizens are going into bookstores and everyone is hurt by that. We need to keep a balance between book prices and protecting authors.”
The Books and Authors Law went into effect in February 2014 in an attempt to increase competition between publishers and booksellers and to ensure authors outside the top few are better compensated, but it was met with mixed reactions.
The legislation, proposed by then-MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) and pushed forward by former culture and sport minister Limor Livnat, was meant to break the duopoly in the retail book market, made up of Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim, by not allowing a store or publisher to encourage salespeople to promote specific books, and by requiring stores to give equal prominence to books from different publishers.
The legislation requires stores and publishers to reach agreements on what kind of discounts can be put on books, and those discounts can be only on books that are over 18 months old. That includes “buy one, get one free” and similar sales.
An exception is made for Hebrew Book Week every summer.
During those 18 months, Israeli authors will receive at least 8 percent of the price (minus value-added tax) of the first 6,000 books sold and 10% of the price of book 6,001 and up. The bill regulates authors’ royalties after 18 months.
MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) organized the meeting, pointing out that the average price for a new book went up from NIS 44 to NIS 68 and book sales plummeted since the law passed. As such, he proposed a new bill meant to cancel the Books and Authors Law and allow books to be sold at a discount price immediately upon release.
“The government regulates prices of basic consumer items like bread, eggs and milk and makes sure that we, the consumers, do not pay too high a price. When it comes to books, the opposite is true. An absurd situation was created in which the government supervises and makes sure the prices of books will be high,” Kisch said.
However, Regev said she does not want to totally cancel the law.
Kisch and MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) are to be members of the Regev-led committee on the Books and Authors Law.
Zandberg opposes the law’s cancellation, saying it is meant to make sure authors are paid a decent amount for their books and to help independent bookstores survive.
“Is what we have in the market today competition, or just a predatory duopoly?” she asked. “Do we not want to open more stores and chains? The Books and Authors Law helps that happen.”
Popular author Ram Oren said he opposes Kisch’s proposal to cancel the law, explaining that when there were sales of four books for NIS 100, he would lose money from each book sold.
However, author Liad Shoham said he supports canceling the law because, as an author, it is important to him that people read what he writes.
“Our goal is to strengthen the market and one of the incentives to buy a book is a low price,” Shoham explained.
Kisch closed the meeting by calling for the government to think twice before intervening in the market.