QUEBEC – A Quebec legislature committee has started exploring the question: Are consumers getting too good a deal on new books?
The legislature has launched hearings on whether to regulate the price of books to stop big players, like Amazon or Wal-Mart, from offering new releases at a discount because small independent bookstores say it’s damaging their business.
Quebec’s minister of culture and communications is considering one suggestion by Quebec’s publishers who want book prices fixed for nine months upon their release, and discounts limited to a maximum 10 per cent during that period.
The regulation would apply to print and e-books.
When the committee began its hearings Monday, Culture Minister Maka Kotto indicated he would like to make a decision quickly so that book-lovers can know before the end of the year whether they will continue to enjoy cheap best-sellers.
The proposal does not have unanimous support.
The minority Parti Quebecois government would need the support of the two main opposition parties to legislate on the matter. The official Opposition, the Liberals, have not taken a position while the Coalition party has quickly opposed the idea.
The Coalition’s Nathalie Roy says such a measure would reduce access to books for families, especially those in the middle class.
During an appearance before the committee, the union of Quebec authors, which represents 1,400 writers, called on the PQ government to move quickly to save small bookstores which it says are slowly disappearing.
The group’s Sylvie Desrosiers said that 20 book stores in Quebec have closed since 2010 and only four have opened.
The idea carries unique cultural overtones in Quebec: proponents argue that there won’t be anyone selling books geared to the smaller francophone market if the independent bookstores disappear.
Smaller left-wing opposition party Quebec solidaire is sympathetic to that argument, with leader Francoise David saying Monday that smaller independent bookstores are essential to the development of culture in Quebec.
Desrosiers said big-box stores offer at most a variety of about 300 titles but, by law, registered bookstores have to provide at 6,000 titles in seven categories.
She added that the smaller stores take the risk of promoting unknown authors who may become eventually become popular and end up in big-box stores.
At least 12 countries have adopted fixed-book price agreements including numerous European countries, Argentina and South Korea. The United Kingdon had a similar policy for almost the entire 20th century until its Net Book Agreement was struck down in court in 1997.
There are about 135 independent bookstores in Quebec.