ESA believes the book agreement may be illegal
The Norwegian book agreement will be scrutinized in Brussels. The reason is suspicion of illegal price cooperation.
The book agreement is an agreement between the Publisher Association and the Bookstores Association. It includes almost all publishers in Norway and almost all bookstores in Norway. Part of the core of the agreement is a fixed price on new books in Norwegian.
Such price cooperation is usually contrary to the competition law. Therefore, the Norwegian authorities have adopted a separate regulation that provides the book agreement with an exception from the law.
The agreement may however still be in violation of the EEA agreement, says Director in EFTA’s Surveillance Authority ESA, Gjermund Mathisen.
– Norwegian authorities can exempt from the cartel ban in the Competition Act, but not derogate from the corresponding cartel ban in the EEA Agreement, he explains.
Creates a case
ESA are now going to scrutinize the agreement.
In a letter to the Ministry of Culture, ESA asks for a meeting in January to discuss the matter. ESA also requires responses from the Ministry of Culture on a number of questions.
The Ministry of Culture announces in a brief statement that the letter has been received and that the case is being processed. ESA has set January 19th as the date for responding to the letter.
The crucial question in the matter is whether the book agreement has an effect on trade between the EEA countries. If it does , ESA believes it may violate the prohibition of price cooperation in Article 53 of the EEA Agreement.
The answer is not obvious, says Mathisen. The reason is that the book agreement applies to books in Norwegian, and books in Norwegian are not subject to major trade in other countries.
– But if the impact is big enough, the book agreement will be in violation of the EEA agreement, Mathisen says to NTB.
Translated books in the spotlight
ESA’s concern is especially related to books translated into Norwegian. It may be thought that the book agreement affects trading by readers rather buying the book in the original language to avoid the stiff prices in Norway.
Another question is books with little or no text, such as picture books and some children’s books.
One possible solution may be to take these books out of the book agreement. Another possibility is to do as France, Germany and several other EU countries. They have introduced price controls through their own book laws instead of letting the industry do so themselves.
– These book laws regulate the price of books in the national language. Then it’s about protecting languages and literature in the national language, says Mathisen.
Wants to preserve the system
Managing Director Kristenn Einarsson in the Publishers’ Association points out that there is a clear majority in the Parliament in favour the Norwegian literature policy.
– This literature policy includes a fixed price system, says Einarsson.
– It’s about having a literature policy for a small language community. This goes for the vast majority of countries that have small language base. The literature policy we have chosen in Norway works, he says.
Einarsson is convinced that it will be possible to find solutions where the system of fixed prices is preserved.
– If it is concluded that this has to be regulated differently, I expect that one will negotiate the approach, he says.
NTB Scanpix / Norway Today