The Ministerial Committee for Legislation Sunday approved a bill aimed at protecting the income of local authors by placing limits on book sales and establishing a minimum-royalty standard.

The law, drafted by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, states that books cannot be sold for less than their list price for the first 18 months after publication. It also sets minimum royalties to be paid to authors during that period; eight percent on the first 6,000 copies sold and 10% on each additional copy.

The committee's approval, on a 13-3 vote, means the bill goes to the Knesset with government backing.

"I believe that this law will ensure that the Israeli public can continue to enjoy diverse, quality Israeli literature in Hebrew," said Livnat. "This can only be assured if writers and poets get a fair return for their works."

She said the current situation - in which the two large bookstore chains, Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim, are constantly running book sales to undercut each other - "is intolerable. Books are devalued when they are sold for less than it costs to print them. This is abnormal and illogical."

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, who supported the bill, said he would also recommend that the Israel Antitrust Authority examine the effect of the relationship between publisher Kinneret Zmora Bitan Dvir and Tzomet Sfarim, which the publisher owns, to see whether that relationship is proper or not.

Simhon presented the ministers with a report from his ministry's research authority which showed that in recent years, there had been no increase in the number of titles released in Israel by commercial publishers.

The report also showed that the two chains were forcing private bookstores out of business, and that while more prosperous Israelis had bought and read more books over the past several years, the less prosperous had bought fewer books and presumably read fewer as well.

Yaron Sadan, chairman of the Book Publishers Association, and Steimatzky CEO Iris Barel welcomed the bill's advancement and praised Livnat for her efforts. Sadan said Livnat and National Economic Council head Eugene Kandel "responded with intelligence and common sense to the cultural and economic questions this market failure has raised."