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Issues of the Day Writers Demand End to Exploitative Practices
 

In a letter this week  to Limior Livnat, Minister of Culture and Sports, nearly three hundred Israeli authors urged the passage of a bill to protect writers, who have suffered declining royalties due to the heavy discounting of the two large bookselling chains operating here.

 

As  part of the intense rivalry between Steimatzky and Tzomet Books, the two companies that have come to dominate book sales in Israel, books are “dumped” on the market in their stores at cut-rate prices, far lower than the publisher’s list price. Authors, are paid based on sales revenues and as a result of such sales have found their incomes dwindling.


The effects of this system are many. Not only are  writers incomes reduced, less well-known authors and emerging ones find themselves unable to reach readers since “shelf” space is dominated by the works that do the best commercially, regardless of merit. In this way literary diversity becomes hindered; only the established voices are promoted.


The dominant publishers maintain special arrangement with the chains, which essentially impair access to smaller and niche houses. The powerful publishers are able to liquidate their backlists by having their products featured in the chain stores.  


Another ill effect of this arrangement is that the book chains, due to their aggressive expansion, have forced many independent book stores to close and with this, book culture has suffered.


The predominance of market considerations in legacy publishing – that model of publishing that had been dominant in the 20th Century but which, due to the intense centralization of the industry and the rise of digital technologies is now in a state of collapse – has distorted literature by featuring what is trendy or popular. This has impeded the emergence of new literary voices.


In their avarice, booksellers and publishers whose measure of success seem largely based on increasing revenues must be constrained. A model of reform is the “French Law” instituted some years ago to protect authors against the kind of intense discounting then prevalent in France and which exists in Israel today. Instituting a similar law in Israel is a necessary remedy to a system that is economically exploitative and which distorts literary culture.    


© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved