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Debate on a bill to protect authors and literature in Israel will continue today, after the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee received special permission from the Knesset speaker to go on, even though the Knesset is in recess.

Avi Shumer, the CEO of Tzomet Books, criticized the continuing Knesset debate, saying "the Culture Ministry is trying to ram through a law before the elections without anyone examining its ramifications."

Under the so-called books bill, the price of a book would remain unchanged for the first 18 months after its publication, and the minimum royalties to authors would be eight percent. The bill also states that discounts on new books would be limited to the periods of Hebrew Book Week and before the major holidays. Bookstores would be banned from paying incentives to employees to sell certain books, nor would they be allowed to favor one publisher over another in allocating display space.

"Writers won't benefit from this law; they'll end up with less money, primarily because sales will go down," said Shumer, adding that the bill won't benefit consumers, either. "They talk about cottage cheese and milk going up a few percentage points, while the price of books will go up by hundreds of percent. Instead of NIS 30 today, they'll cost NIS 85," he said.

'Conspiracy'

Shumer claimed the bill constitutes a conspiracy by the Book Publishers Association of Israel and Steimatzky, the country's largest bookstore chain, to harm Tzomet Books and Tzomet's owner, Kinneret Zmora-Bitan publishing house.

"When they couldn't do it commercially they went to the legislator and unfortunately managed to convince him," said Shumer. "In recent days, after Iris Barel [of Steimatzky] spoke to the Knesset about the good of the publishers, she again demanded 80 percent discounts from them. The question is whether Steimatzky wants to create chaos in the market on purpose or whether [Barel] simply doesn't mean what she says in the Knesset."

Barel issued a response stating, "The books bill is not political, and has wall-to-wall support from all the MKS. It's too bad that Shumer and Tzomet Books aren't joining the struggle, but are motivated by narrow financial interests."

Yaron Sadan, chairman of the Book Publishers Association, said the bill "aims to reduce the concentration in the [book] sector, and pits it against the narrow economic interests of the Tzomet Books chain and its owner, publisher Kinneret Zmora-Bitan."