Trustbuster Fines Steimatzky for Breaking Exclusivity Rules

CEO of Israel's largest bookstore chain, Iris Barel, also told to pay up.

Daniel Tchetchik

Bookstore chain Steimatzky will be fined 1.5 million shekels ($434,900) after the antitrust commissioner found that the company demanded that publishers offer it exclusive sales on their products, contrary to the terms of a 1995 merger with another bookstore chain.

Steimatzky CEO Iris Barel is being personally fined 50,000 shekels, and the chain is forbidden from reimbursing her, the trustbuster ruled.

The fines come as part of a settlement worked out between the Antitrust Authority, Steimatzky and Barel. The agreement is up for public review and needs approval from the antitrust court.

The investigation into the alleged antitrust violation began in 2011, and involves two incidents. In the first incident, Steimatzky demanded that various publishers offer it exclusive sales on books participating in its customer club promotions between November 2010 and June 2011. These books could not be offered at sale prices at other chains, Steimatzky demanded. In the second incident, Steimatzky demanded in July 2011 that publishers whose books were offered at sale prices at its branches not be offered at discounts at other branches. Steimatzky retracted the second demand several days later.

As part of the 1995 merger with Sifri, Steimatzky was forbidden from attempting to limit publishers’ relationships with its competitors.

Steimatzky and Barel were informed that they would be facing an antitrust hearing in January 2013. Following the hearing, the sides came to an agreement stipulating financial sanctions, and in exchange the trustbuster agreed not to file an indictment.

The alleged infractions occurred before an amendment took force enabling the Antitrust Authority to impose administrative sanctions on antitrust violators.

The fine is unlikely to place too much of a dent in Barel’s personal finances. She is likely to receive a $2 million bonus when the chain is sold, and she earns 100,000 shekels a month.

Steimatzky has been in financial straits over the past year and is currently in negotiations to be sold to the Arledan Group, which also owns the publishing house Keter and the office supplies chain Kravitz. Steimatzky is likely to fetch 30 million to 50 million shekels.