Trade Minister Announces Support for Bill Bolstering Book Prices

Support expected to increase the chances that the bill will be approved by Knesset.

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon yesterday threw his support behind a bill aimed at bolstering book prices, in defiance of the advice of ministry professionals.

His support is expected to increase the chances that the bill is approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and thus, also by the Knesset.

Simhon said he supports the bill - which would bar bookstores from offering steep discounts on new books for a certain period after their publication - because its goal is to ensure a fair wage for everyone involved in the book industry.

"I've always thought products should not be sold at a loss," Simhon said. "Those in the industry should be enabled to earn an honorable living and thus maintain the industry for many years to come. A fair minimum price should be set at every stage of the production chain, including for consumers."

Simhon also said he would demand that the bill include enforcement mechanisms "so it doesn't turn into a dead letter."

Yaron Sadan, chairman of the Book Publishers Association, said he was delighted by Simhon's support, adding that he hoped it would persuade other ministers to follow suit. Prof. Menachem Perry, editor in chief of the New Library (Hasifriya Hahadasha ) publishing house, also said the decision inspired "great hope."

Simhon's decision comes in response to the storm that swept the publishing world after the Steimatzky bookstore chain announced that, for the upcoming Hebrew Book Week, it would offer a special deal of four books for NIS 99. That caused rival chain Tzomet Sfarim to do the same, though it had previously planned to offer only three books for NIS 99.

Ten of Israel's leading authors then countered by announcing that they would not allow their books to be sold at a such a price.

Authors are also planning a protest "against the burial of Israeli literature" at Jerusalem's Book Week events: They plan to station a hearse laden with books there, accompanied by a sign that says "Here lies Israeli literature." They are terming Book Week itself a "shiva for the book," referring to the traditional seven-day Jewish mourning period.

The protesters will carry placards reading "We, the authors, poets, translators, illustrators and publishers, the heart of Israeli literature and culture, and all those involved in the publishing industry and in Israel's literary life, urge the government to approve the Law for the Protection of Literature and Writers in Israel immediately and without delay. Failure to enact the law today will mean the collapse of the book industry, and deal an irreversible blow to the enterprise of reviving the Hebrew language and Hebrew literature, as well as the cultural, spiritual and national infrastructure of our existence in this land."

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz ), the bill's sponsor, said yesterday that Hebrew Book Week will be a sad holiday for Hebrew literature and Israeli authors.

"The big bookstore chains are destroying Israel's book industry, after having caused an intolerable delay in the law's passage," he said. "Israel's book industry has been hit by a basic market failure that no one has succeeded in coping with, and now even the big chains are being hurt, along with the authors, publishers and, especially, the reading public. The big chains have fallen into the pit that they themselves dug."