3 for 1 book sales are now illegal in Israel: Yay Government!

Stuff like this would never have bothered me a few years ago, not that I ever buy new books. I would have just glanced at the title, shrugged, and moved on with my life. But now these stories hit a real nerve.

The subtitle:

“3-for-1 deals at book stores will become a thing of the past in move designed to protect author’s income.”

So the government is going to decide for us what a good price for books is. They already do this with gasoline and interest rates. This piece of legislative thuggery was drawn up by Likud MK Limor Livnat, who voted for the Disengagement by the way, and is the “Culture and Sport” Minister because, well, the government needs to be in charge of that aspect of our lives as well. God forbid culture and sport be managed by the people. Likud is also, technically, the “free market laissez faire right wing” party.

The reason it is being passed is this:

The bill follows the entreaties of leading authors and publishers saying that the competition between the major bookstore chains – Tzomet Sfarim and Steimatzky – undercuts author royalties and threatens the viability of publishing houses. According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, “the law is designed to protect the author’s income.”

So the free market is competing to lower prices for consumers like you and me, and the big guns are going to the government to make competition illegal.

According to the bill, stores will not be allowed to discount the price of a book for 18 months following its publication. Therefore, the logic goes, people will be forced to buy the book at a higher price, thereby “protecting the author’s income”.

Well, this is genius. That should work well.

But there’s another possibility, with a likelihood of something along the lines of absolutely certain: Sales of new books will plummet at Tzomet Sfarim and Steimatzky when consumers can no longer find good deals on them. Authors’ royalties will fall through the floor. Tzomet Sfarim and Steimatzky’s sales will plunge in general,  chains will go out of business, unemployment will go up, and people will cry to the government to bail out the bookstores, or better yet, pass a national “support Israeli literature tax” to give the industry a boost so authors don’t starve because nobody is buying their books. Sales of 18-month old books will skyrocket, but at an even lower price than new books were selling for at 3 for 1 deals because the chains will be trying to get rid of them in liquidation sales to make room for the new books that they can’t sell at a discount.

What will happen then is that the same thugs will complain to the government that the liquidation sales are killing author’s royalties, so those will be illegal too, and then the stores will just have to either burn them, or simply not take in new books, which will hurt author’s royalties as the books won’t even be available at Steimatzky anymore.

Livnat’s legislative bullying goes farther still:

The bill also states that for the first 18 months authors will receive a minimum 8% royalty for the first 6,000 books sold, and royalties of at least 10% for all books sold after that number. For the next seven years, publishers will be obligated to pay authors at least 16% royalties on profits from their books.

So the government also feels that it should force retailers to pay a certain amount to the authors, because God only knows what awful things could happen if they were left alone to decide the rates between themselves privately by contract. Such a thing cannot be done.

Netanyahu, Mr. Free Market Privatization, had this gem to quip:

“As the People of the Book, we are committed to maintaining the income of the authors who create our cultural treasures. The law creates the right balance between the aspiration that books not be a luxury item and that everyone be able to enjoy the experience of reading, and the need to protect authors and their works.”

Protect those authors Bibi! And when sales drop and they complain some more, I expect a subsidy or a tax or whatever it is that you’ll do to protect the industry from the consequence of your government interference with yet more government interference, thereby making it even worse. Maybe cut Barak off from first class flights to France, or maybe cut every MK’s salary 50%? How about getting rid of the entire Office of Culture and Sport and firing Livnat?

This isn’t about protecting authors. It’s about power and flexing muscle. That’s what it’s always about. Always.

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