The Literature-wrecking Law

The bill will lead to a collapse of the book market and harm the bookstore chains, publishers and the writers themselves.

The cabinet committee on legislation discussed yesterday the proposed "law for the protection of literature and authors." On Wednesday, the bill will have a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum. The Knesset members behind this bill describe it as being of "prime social importance," saying it will change literary life in Israel by setting fair financial compensation for authors, editors and translators and ensuring publishers' and bookstores' profits, while guaranteeing the reading public a variety of books at affordable prices.

All of this is of course impossible. Such centralized control didn't even work in the Soviet Union. This bill will have the opposite effect of what it is setting out to do: It will lead to a collapse of the book market and harm the bookstore chains, publishers and the writers themselves.

Antitrust Authority commissioner Ronit Kan recently investigated the book market and found it to be competitive, flourishing and dynamic. The number of Hebrew titles has grown by 25 percent in recent years and the public is now purchasing many more books, due to a decline in prices.

There is no reason to intervene in a market that is functioning well. Indeed, we have all seen the positive turnaround that has taken place as a result of the competition. As book prices have gone down, many people who would never have dreamed of buying books before have now begun to do so, both for themselves and as gifts for others.

If this bill becomes law, bookstores will have to charge more for their wares, and the consequences will be immediate. The volume of sales and total revenues will drop for both bookstores and publishers, and writers will earn less. This is not legislation of "prime social importance," as claimed by its initiators, but rather anti-social legislation. Buying books will once again be something that only the well-heeled elites can afford to do. Lower-income earners, young families struggling with their mortgages and even people with average incomes will have to think twice before purchasing books. Consequently, an entire generation will grow up having to stay away from the same bookstores they've only in recent years begun to frequent.

Perhaps there is room to consider ways of awarding grants to outstanding writers, but there is no room for such blatant intervention in the market - intervention that will harm both the public's well-being and culture itself.