Arts: Publishers cry foul as cheap US books are sold on-line

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The Independent Online
Waterstones, one of Britain's biggest books retailers, said yesterday it was considering how to deal with the threat of action by the Publishers' Association to stop the sale of American books over the Internet.

The Publishers' Association, the body which represents UK book publishers, revealed yesterday that it was considering proposals to stop the on-line sale of United States editions of books to UK consumers. US Based Internet booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon have increased sales to the UK in recent months and often offer large discounts on the list price of books.

The Publishers' Association says legal advice suggests such sales may breach copyright, if a UK edition of the same title was also available. It has already cracked down on a number of UK-based on-line booksellers planning to sell discounted US editions over the Net.

But Internet selling is a growing part of the book retailing market. Waterstones, for example, set up its internet site 12 months ago and says that since then it has enjoyed growth of 35 per cent a month.

The WH Smith subsidiary plans to introduce US editions to its Internet bookstore early next year - a move which looks likely to bring it into direct conflict with the Association.

Yesterday, Sally Taplin, new media manager at Waterstones, said that the company had not yet decided how to deal with the threat, but added that publishers were going to have to "look hard" at developments in the retail market if booksellers were not going to lose business.

"If that's what the customer wants, then booksellers are going to have to look hard at the arrangements which currently exist to see they are not damaging their business," she said.

"It's a global market and ... booksellers might not want to be competing on-line, but that's possibly the reality of the situation. It may be that just as as the Net Book Agreement was a publisher's agreement that needed to be reviewed, I think it's come to a stage where there's so much discussion around it people will have to look at it."

If the extra retailing medium led to an overall increase in demand, she said, then there was potential for all sides to be happy.

"We feel that publishers are very important and we want to work harmoniously with them and not damage that relationship," she said. "But we do believe that what the customers want is equally important."

Many bookstores have recently set up their own internet shopping site, including Book Data, which can dispatch books from Dillons, Hammicks or the PC Bookshop. There are also a number of online-only stores such as Bookpages and the Internet Bookshop.