Authors to Pay Heavy Price as Steimatzky Bookstore Chain Sold

Some writers threaten to sue after learning their royalties are about to be slashed by publishers who aren't getting their money from the chain.

Tomer Appelbaum

Authors will also be paying for Steimatzky’s sale to Yafit Greenberg’s group, after publishers were forced to forgo 30% of the money the ailing bookstore chain owes them. Publishers are expected to cut authors’ royalties by 30% as well, publishers have told TheMarker.

Publishers’ agreements with authors often set royalties at a certain percentage of what publishers receive from bookstores.

This affects only books that were published before the new book-pricing law took effect in February; the law states that authors are to receive at least 8% of a book’s cover price.

The CEO of Am Oved, Yaakov Brei, says his publishing house has yet to come to an agreement with Steimatzky’s buyers, but if his company is forced to take a hit, writers, printers, editors and other people in the business are likely to be stung.

“Clearly writers will be hurt too, as will the rest of the food chain, and it’s simply unbearable,” he said. “The writers are worried no less than we are; they’re writing to us to ask what’s happening.”

As another publisher put it, “There won’t be a choice but to pay the writers less. These businesspeople’s games are seriously hurting the sector.”

Eran Zmora of Kinneret Zmora Bitan – which, as far as is known, is the only publisher to have signed an agreement with Steimatzky’s buyers – said the publisher had not yet decided what to do, “but logic states that if you receive less money and the writers’ pay is based on your net revenues, the writers will receive less.”

Writers took the news badly; some are threatening to sue the publishers.

“This is a declaration of war. If a publisher does that he’s declaring war on me, and all is fair in war. I don’t know what kind of power writers have, but they can make life difficult,” said Haim Be’er, a novelist whose works are published by Am Oved. “There’s no reason the CEOs should continue to get their salaries while authors, translators and editors pay the price.”

A smaller publisher, Sela Sfarim, said it would not pass the losses on to writers.

“Our writers don’t need to pay the price,” said Sela owner Ziv Cohen. “Royalties are low in Israel as it is, and authors receive on average less than two shekels for books that are sold during aggressive sales, such as 4 for 100 shekels [$29].”