Ten leading Israeli authors announced on Tuesday, on the eve of the 51st Hebrew Book Week, that they do not want their books being sold at the discount prices being offered for the event, which begins on Wednesday.
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The writers are demanding that their publishing houses not allow their books to be included in the big sales, because they say, "We can no longer participate in the humiliation of our works in particular, and Hebrew literature in general."
Those who spoke out against the sales are David Grossman, Haim Be'er, Ronit Matalon, Amos Oz, Eli Amir, Yoram Kaniuk, Orly Castel-Bloom, Judith Katzir, Meir Shalev and Zeruya Shalev.
Their statement was prompted by an announcement from the Steimatzky bookstore chain earlier this week that it would be selling four books for NIS 100 during Book Week. The country's other leading bookstore chain, Tzomet Sfarim, immediately followed suit with the same offer.
Menachem Perry, literary editor of the New Library publishing house, told Haaretz that he could no longer afford to receive new manuscripts because of the crisis in the book market. He said the industry was being harmed by the continuing delay of passage of the so-called book bill, a draft law intended to protect authors and to increase competition in the publishing sector.
Perry supported the authors' action, despite the fact that he acknowledged it will mean a financial loss for them. "Leading authors, who display courage in other areas, will have to put their immediate interests at risk for a while, for the sake of the long run. They must put the bookstore chains in their place," he said.
In a conversation with Haaretz yesterday, Yoram Kaniuk said that after years of fighting for passage of the legislation, he has given up hope. "I don't believe the bill will ever be approved, so we must stop these horrible bargains, which are simply unbearable. If someone wishes to purchase one of my books, he should pay the full price. If ten people buy my books at full price, it's the equivalent of 200 people buying my book as part of a deal," said Kaniuk.
Meir Shalev noted that he forbade his publishing house from including his books, "A Pigeon and A Boy" and "My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner," in sales for the first year after their publication. "We must struggle against the belligerent, crude and cultureless gangs - the two largest bookstore chains. It's unfathomable that people invest years of work and effort, and I hope talent as well, only to see book dealers make all the profits. We won't agree to be part of this any longer," Shalev said.
Shalev points his finger at the government, who "after years of struggle [for the book bill] still doesn't understand what it's doing, and what it isn't doing. This government treats Hebrew culture as if it were a pair of socks," he added.
The authors appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene immediately and promote the book bill.
The Book Publishers Association of Israel welcomed the authors' initiative, and echoed their call to cancel the big book bargains and swiftly approve the legislation.
The association's director, Amnon Ben-Shmuel, said that a million people visited book fairs during Hebrew Book Week last year; 200,000 attended the fair at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Nevertheless, he said, it is clear that bookstore bargains severely hurt business at the fairs. This year, for example, there won't be a book fair in Haifa.
A municipality spokesperson told Haaretz that "in recent years, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of visitors at the fair, due to the sales offered by the bookstore chains, which made the bargains at the Book Week fairs less attractive." Instead, Haifa is opting for a different format of Hebrew Book Week that will emphasize reading rather than buying. The municipality will hold events promoting book trading and use of municipal libraries.