Israel's Big Book Sellers Bring Back Four Books for NIS 100 Discount

Israel’s two big book chains plan the deep discounting that disappeared when the Book Law went into effect last year.

Eyal Toueg

After a long hiatus, Israel’s big book sellers are bringing back their traditional bargain offers of four books for 100 shekels ($25.80) starting this week.

On Monday Tzomet Sfarim began advertising the four-book deal that had been the bulwark of Israeli book sellers before legislation restricted the practice went into effect and forced prices up to an average of 40 to 50 shekels per book. “We’ve decided to bring back the deal that made our name,” said Avi Schumer, its founder and CEO.

Steimatzky said it plans to begin offering the same package to members of its club starting Tuesday, but was more restrained. “Ahead of the New Year and Hanukkah and in line with our annual program, we plan attractive and special sales for club members,” it said.

The moves come amid a general slowdown in consumer spending that includes books, sparse traffic at malls and a delay in the winter weather that would keep people at home reading. Book retailers said they hope the promotion will reverse what they say has been a 20% drop in sales in recent months.

There’s another good reason why the book chains are dusting off the four-book deals: In December, a large number of titles are no longer protected by law from being sold at discounted prices.

Under the so-called Book Law, retailers are barred from selling new titles for less than the publisher’s catalogue price for the first 18 months after publication, with exceptions like Hebrew Book Week and online sales, where limited discounts are permitted. But now 120 titles are now available to fill the discount tables.

But if book sellers are looking forward to the sales, publishers told TheMarker this week that they are worried that the promotion will take a toll on new titles still protected under the Book Law. The law was designed to protect their revenues, but in fact since it went into effect in February 2014 sales have dropped.

“It’s a terrible idea – it will kill sales of new titles going to the store this month,” said one publisher, who asked not to be named. “And if they keep it up, it will ruin prospects for the next round of new books. Buyers don’t really understand the law – they see four for 100 shekels and ignore new titles thinking that they’ll also go on sale at four for 100 soon.”

Another publisher warned that the return to deep discounting would bring back the “crazy market” that had prevailed before the Book Law. Still, he conceded that book retailers really had no choice.

“Sales have been falling in the tens of percent. October was the worst,” said the publisher, who also asked not to be named. “Traditionally, before the Book Law, Hanukkah was always characterized by aggressive discounting in the book trade and it seems that the book chains want to go back to that.”

The problem he said is that since the Book Law went into force shoppers have stayed away from stores and sales have fallen in both money and unit terms. He said the law had so badly hurt the industry that he was hoping it would expire after its three-year run without lawmakers extending it.

“We’re very upset, but at the end of the day no one can allow himself not to participate [in the sales],” added another publisher who spoke on condition of anonymity. He held out hope that the sales would bring buyers to books that had been ignored when they were first released at the catalogue price.

Supporters of the Book Law’s had expected publishers to set catalogue prices at about 50 shekels, but currently catalogue prices range from 68 to 78 shekels.