In what is sure to become a hotly contested issue, the government of Quebec is looking at legislation that would make book prices mandated by the publishers and nearly unchangeable by the retailers. In what was supposed to be a move to give the independent booksellers a leg up over major chain retailers, online retailers, AND ebook distributors, the publishers would set one price per title and no seller would be allowed to discount that title more than five percent.
Despite the support of authors’ organizations and booksellers, there are some nearly unbelievable flaws with the proposal. First, the price of the book will remain the same, regardless of whether the consumer buys the print or digital edition. Despite the fact that ebook readers are not consuming paper, ink, or fuels associated with shipping costs, they would now pay the same price for a digital download as they would be required to if they had bought print. Second, this legislation would only affect Quebec, so consumers in other parts of Canada would not have to pay the artificially inflated price, meaning readers who live along the borderline between Quebec and a neighboring province would simply move their book purchases across the line to avoid paying a higher price. Finally, it appears as though the legislation still wouldn’t affect online retailers who don’t have the proverbial “physical presence” that allowed Amazon to avoid collecting sales tax in US states; this would not only strengthen Amazon’s power to provide cheaper books to citizens in Quebec, but would also prevent the retailer from ever building a distribution center or affiliate relationships in the province.
A similar measure was passed in France and actually did have some of the desired effect for independent booksellers, but the key difference is their “Lang Law” was universal within the country, so there was no incentive to shop in a different region or buy online from retailers who would not be held to this regulation. By passing such a law in only one province, this stands to hurt independent bookshops even more than the current situation.
For its part, Canada’s second largest book retail chain, Renaud-Bray, is against the proposed legislation, and its president and CEO Blaise Renaud openly states that the only people who will benefit from the measure are the book distributors, not the sellers and certainly not the readers.