November 9, 2016
Sales up after Israeli government repeals contentious “book law”
by Kait Howard
Back in June, Liam O’Brien covered the strange legislative interlude in Israel after a law was passed setting strict controls on the discounting of new books, only to be repealed less than three years later in the face of a steep decrease in sales.
Now, Adi Dovrat-Meseritz at Haaretz reports that two months after the “Law for the Protection of Literature and Writers” was rescinded, “book sales have recovered quickly and the old deals are back — but the discounts are smaller than they seem.” As O’Brien explained, the law had put an end to massive price slashing driven by competition between Israel’s two major book chains, Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim, but with the (largely expected) result that sales of new books declined as much as sixty percent. The law was passed for a trial period set to end in February 2017, but the Knesset pushed the repeal through nearly eight months early, at the strong urging of Israel’s new culture minister Miri Regev.
Two months after the repeal went into effect, Dovrat-Meseritz writes, retailers have gone back to their exorbitant discounting, but publishers seem to be resisting. “The catch is that publishers have increased their suggested retail prices by 21% since the Book Law’s repeal,” she writes. “That means at Steimtatzky, the average cost per book in a two-book purchase is 60 shekels [15.77 U.S. dollars], compared to 52 shekels [$13.67] before prices were hiked. At Tzomet Sfarim, the average is 67.50 shekels [$17.74] versus 55.50 shekels [$14.59].”
Speaking to Dovrat-Meseritz, both chains “said discounting would not to return to their pre-law levels of two books for the price of one and three books for 100 shekels [$26.28].” Given the parallel challenges the U.S. faces against the price-slashing retail behemoth Amazon, it might have been interesting to see whether the Israeli market would have adjusted to regulations on discounting over time. But for now it seems like Israeli publishers may be having some success standing their ground.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.