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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 17, 2008 @ 11:15 am

    Net Book Agreement

    Fiona McCann

    At the fascinating talk by literary agent Jonathan Williams at the Writers Centre last night (the world of publishing is nefarious indeed, turns out), the subject of the now defunct Net Book Agreement came up. Introduced in 1900, it was essentially a price fixing agreement between British publishers and booksellers whereby the prices of books were set regardless of what shop shelves they graced. The idea was that any bookseller who sold a book at below the agreed price would then no longer be supplied by publishers. Worked like a charm, too, until the mid-90s when it eventually became outlawed, allowing big chains start charging knock-down prices for books and pushing the smaller, independent booksellers out of the market.

    I love a good bookshop, me, a Books Upstairs or a Winding Stair or a Secret Book and Record Store, and it makes me angry to think that they are being put under pressure by the likes of Waterstones or, worse again, Tesco. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were denied the advantage of their monolithic stature and had to give us the same book prices as everyone else? Anyway, don’t y’all have any good bookshop favourites or am I just talking to myself here?

    • Gray Wright says:

      Never just talking to yourself Fiona, this is the internet after all.

      I’d live in certain places if I could. Chapters, the one in the main house in the Blackrock Market, Borders (don’t hate me, they just have so many books!), the old bargain basement in Hodges Figgis.

      The number of nonsense cheap books I bought there and never read.

    • Bryan says:

      Sorry Fiona, I’m a fan of the big chains. I think Tesco selling books is obscene, but the likes of Waterstones and Easons I really like. If they laid out sofas on the shop floor and served hot and cold drinks, I would spend all my free time there!

    • Fiona says:

      Gray: Phew, glad to see I’m not alone. And I will not judge your predilection for Borders – I can be found in almost any bookshop known to man, truth be told. In fact, I have to be dragged out of them, and my credit card snipped or I lose the run of myself entirely. I’ve never seen a good book I didn’t immediately have to purchase.

      Bryan: I agree on Tescos, and yes, you’re right that at least Waterstones and Easons are bookshops. I have soft spots (can you have plural?) for both, truth be told. But lately I do all my book shopping, or as much as I can, in Books Upstairs. A good bookseller, one who really loves books, goes a long way towards making up for the occasional lack of stock.

    • Bryan says:

      Do you think there will even be bookshops in a few years? If I know what I want to read, it’s so much cheaper to buy on amazon. The problem I have with small, independent bookshops is that they tend to stock exactly the same few ‘blockbusters’ that everyone else stocks. If there was a bookshop that I knew stocked the kinds of books I wasn’t likely to see elsewhere, and really good ones that I probably wouldn’t have come across, I would so live there!

    • Charlie Byrne’s in Galway is a treasure house: second hand, out of print, publishers’ overstock and some new books (mostly Irish). V supportive of writers and small publishers too.

      I love Vibes & Scribes in Cork; Chapters, The Winding Stair and Books Upstairs in Dublin; Shakepeare & Co in Paris.

      I don’t buy books in Tesco. As a writer (published by smaller publishers) and former bookseller, it would go against everything I stand for.
      Waterstones are none too supportive of small publishers either.


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