The idea of fixing book prices sounds contradictory to free-market advocates. But IPA Congress attendees, judging from the packed conference room at a session on the last day of the conference, were intrigued by the topic, if not totally fascinated by an alternative scenario that eschews heavy discounting and price wars.

In the session, Catherine Blache (French Publishers Association) provided many compelling reasons for adopting the system, which is currently legal in 16 countries, including France (since 1981), Germany, Spain, Norway, Japan and South Korea. “The Fixed Book Price (FBP) law levels the playing field for all retailers by effectively eliminating potential dominance of a single player," she said. "In France, a strong retail network of 2,500 independent booksellers serves 4,500 publishers. Contrast this with the U.S., where half of its indie booksellers had closed down in the last 20 years, or in the U.K. where one-third of its indie booksellers were lost in the past decade. There are only about 2,000 booksellers in the U.S. today, serving a population five times bigger than France.” Diversity of booksellers and titles, and affordability of books are FBP’s main selling points. “We apply this equality to e-book retailers and e-books, and it has worked wonders for us. Take a look at our success story, and don’t wait until all the indie booksellers have disappeared,” Blache urgrd.

For Lui Simpson (Association of American Publishers), the fight is about stopping piracy, which may spell trouble (and perhaps doom) for both publishers and booksellers. Instead of calling it a campaign, she preferred the term “program” as “this connotes the idea of a sustained and consistent strategy, and not a one-time approach.” Publishers, she added, have to choose their battles as full-blown litigation on small mom-and-pop copyshops may not worth the effort when the ultimate goal is not just to shutter the operation but to send a very strong anti-piracy message. “Enforcement is not just about attacking or legal action, it is also about education and creating awareness on piracy. Another important thing to note is that pirates fill the vacuum in a market, and so it is incumbent on the publisher to learn and really know their own market to meet those unfulfilled demands,” Simpson said.

Unfortunately, with digital technologies shifting the publishing and retailing landscape, it is hard to keep up -- or win the battle -- with the pirates. And this is also true with legislation constructed to protect copyright. Three attorneys (representing Malaysia, Brazil and Thailand) outlined their respective country’s copyright acts and legislation, and acknowledged the complexity in enforcing the law. “We have the ‘hardware’ in place to take action,” said Su Siew Ling of Malaysia, “but the ‘software’ -- the human element -- in enforcing the legislation needs to be improved.” To Brazilian Caio Faria Lima, “the value chain, industry, consumer needs and technology are fast changing, and the variables are many. The process of tabling a bill, on the other hand, tends to be lengthy, and so it becomes a catch-up game.” Both U.S.-based Siranya Rhuvattana and chair Carlo Scollo Lavizzari (counsel for STM Association) shared his sentiment, with Rhuvattana adding: “We now have infringement and plagiarism in the mix, and amendments have to be added to reflect these new realities as well.”