In various talks at the Jersualem Book Fair, which closed on Wednesday, a number of challenges were raised, as well as concerns about the future. On the Sunday morning of the fair, a discussion about the growth of electronic readers demonstrated that the U.S. and U.K. are far ahead of Israel in the digital market.
There was also a crash course on the Israeli book market and its challenges, specifically the discounting war going on with the two major chains--Steimatzky (with 150 outlets) and Tzomet Sefarim (with 85). What also complicates the scenario is publishing ownership of the chains. The local publisher, Keter, is aligned with Steimatzky, while the publisher Kinneret is aligned with Tzomet. The battles are having adverse affects on publishers' bottom lines, as well as authors' income. Books are sold at more than 50% off their list price, and often as high as 80% off, so publishers have very low margins to cover production, marketing, royalties and translation costs. "This has had a catastrophic effect on the industry," said Ziv Lewis, who works at the publisher Kinneret Zmora Bitan Dvir. He added that everyone is waiting on government committees looking into a proposed law that would "forbid any price reduction for the first 18 months of publication."
There is, though, as Lewis pointed out, a silver lining to the rampant discounting. He said that the battle between the chains has resulted in "the democratization of the market." He elaborated: "Books are not a luxury item here, and are affordable to everybody. This mean we have an ever-widening circle of readers in recent years." The good news for international publishers is that Israel is also a strong market for translations; of the 4,200 new titles published annually, about 40% are translations. Dror Mishani, who works at the publisher Keter, pointed out that modern Hebrew is a young language, evolving at a faster rate than other languages, so translations of the classics, as well as older backlist titles, becomes outdated and needs new translations.
The multi-day fair featured some 65 events, many organized by the national stands of Hungary, France, Italy, Russia, Romania and Germany. While attendance at the various events were mixed, there was one that set an all-time record. To mark the publication of Radical Responsibility: Celebrating the Thought of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, an overflowing crowd of about 1,000 people came to the convention center's Dulzin Hall to hear Britain's chief rabbi. Koren Publishers Jerusalem published the book and its CEO, Mark Miller (who also publishes books under Toby Press), quoted his teenage daughter, exclaiming that it was almost like a Lady Gaga concert. It's fair to say that the crowds at events buoyed fair attendance, leaving many of the exhibitors pleased with the overall traffic.