June 2, 2016
Israeli government repeals controversial “book law”
by Liam O’Brien
Well, that didn’t take long. Israel’s “Law for the Protection of Literature and Writers,” which set strict controls on discounts for new books, banned store-display deals between publishers and sellers, and established a floor for author royalties, has been repealed less than three years after being passed. David Rosenberg at Israel National News reports:
The law, which was in a trial period and set to expire automatically in February 2017 unless renewed, was repealed by the Knesset on Monday. The law will remain in force until the end of August.
[…]Pushed by then-Culture Minister Limor Livnat and with the support of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the law has caused a significant increase in the prices of new titles — and a steep decline in sales.
While overall book sales fell by 20%, say publishers, sales of newly published books — which fall under the law’s restriction on discounts — declined by as much as 60%.
You might recall that the law was originally created to address the price wars raging between the two bookselling chains that dominate the Israeli market, Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim. Despite the law’s lofty goal of “provid[ing] readers an opportunity to choose among a wide range of books according to their wishes and tastes and enable competition between publishers and bookstores with respect to quantity, variety, and the quality of books offered to the consumer,” sales dropped upon the law’s implementation, which is only to be expected.
Whether or not the market has adjusted to the new law is a subject of some dispute. Miri Regev, Livnat’s successor as Culture Minister, spoke out strongly against the law shortly after taking office, and was instrumental in pushing through its early repeal.
No stranger to controversy, Regev is an outspoken member of Likud, the majority conservative party in the Knesset, and critics claim her opposition to the law is based in ideology rather than evidence. An editorial printed in Haaretz points out that a committee Regev formed to examine the law has concluded that, in fact, it’s actually worked:
Now, even though six of the committee’s seven members supported continuing the law and even expanding it to deal with issues not addressed in the original version, Regev has decided to ignore its recommendations and is rushing to repeal the law.
The committee’s conclusions relied on data presented to them which showed that both the book industry and readers’ purchasing habits had bounced back since the law took effect. Small bookstores and alternative purchasing channels had been strengthened, additional small publishing houses had opened thanks to the improved market conditions, and a more reasonable balance had been achieved between the publishers and the monopolistic bookstore chains.
It raises the question: If the need to repeal the law was so urgent that it couldn’t wait until February, why would the committee say otherwise? It’s unclear if there was some as-yet-unseen motive to repeal the law before 2017, but for now, Israeli book buyers can expect a return to low prices, while small publishers and retailers can expect a return to living on the fiscal edge.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.