Author Phillip Pullman has apparently reached either the age or stature that he feels he no longer has to pay attention to reality.
The Bookseller reports that Pullman wants the UK government to reinstate fixed price book laws.
Renowned writer Philip Pullman has called for a reintroduction of a minimum price for books to protect independent bookshops, calling them “the lantern bearers of civilisation”. But while the Booksellers Association thinks the suggestion should be considered, the Publishers Association has argued that ‘there is no prospect” of it happening and instead believes different measures are needed.
Speaking to the Sunday Times yesterday (30th July), Pullman, who is president of the Society of Authors, lamented the dissolution of the Net Book Agreement in 1997, which meant that all books were sold at the same price, aside from occasional discounting in special circumstances.
He said: “There is an insane, inhumane and perverted belief that the market knows best, and that it is something natural, like gravity, which we can do nothing to alter. But of course we can alter the way the market works. It’s a human construction.”
He added: “I very much want independent booksellers to survive and prosper. It’s not exaggerating to say that they are the lantern bearers of civilisation.”
Pullman has the support of the UK Bookseller Association (who doesn’t think this is going to happen) but not the UK Publisher Association.
The UK’s previous fixed price book law was actually a “voluntary” one called the Net Book Agreement. It fell apart in the 1990s when bookstore chains decided they no longer wanted to play that game.
The NBA was later ruled illegal (which is why it would take government regulation to reinstate it).
There are a multitude of problems with this idea, the least of which is that Pullman wants to freeze the current bookselling industry in place in the hopes that it won’t change any more.
Good luck with that, and good luck with getting Amazon to go along.
At best, fixed price book laws would put more money in Amazon’s pockets – revenue they would use to offer better services.
Did you know that Germany’s fixed price book laws cover the retail price – but not the wholesale price? Yes, the larger booksellers like Amazon get better deals because they sell more books.
Enact a fixed price book law in the UK and Amazon will use the extra margin to offer services like free shipping and same day shipping. Amazon has tried similar book-selling tricks in France or Germany at one point or another, and gotten spanked, so they are bound to try again in the UK.
Rather than preserve the legacy industry in its current form, the new pricing law would merely inspire Amazon to invent new ways to get around it. Instead of disrupting their competitors on price, Amazon would focus on service and speed.
But do you know the worst part about this idea?
It’s not that it won’t work, but also that if it does comes to pass, in the long run it will prove to be counterproductive.
The Net Book Agreement limited competition in the UK book market for 90 years. When it was removed, many booksellers found they could not compete. They closed up because they had grown dependent on a command market.
If the UK enacts a new fixed price book law, it will set itself up for another mass extinction should the law be overturned.
However much Pullman and others might wish, you cannot ignore reality. they might as well order the tide to roll back, for all the good it will do.
image by @lifeinvisuals