Book price war likely after ruling in Europe

CHEAPER BOOKS and a sales war in Britain seem certain after a European Court ruling yesterday outlawing an agreement that allows publishers to fix prices.

Judges in Luxembourg said the Net Book Agreement, operating between Britain and the Irish Republic, by which books must be sold at publishers' prices, was illegal.

A leading bookseller said the decision would lead to lower prices but the Publishers' Association, which represents up to 80 per cent of Britain's publishers, insisted the ruling did not apply to trade within the United Kingdom.

The full implications of the ruling have to be clarified, but whatever the outcome, booksellers will be able to avoid the NBA, which controls the price of three quarters of the books sold in Britain.

Even if the ruling does not apply to sales in the United Kingdom, booksellers will be able to get around the NBA by setting up an office in Ireland, importing books from Britain and then sending them back to their shops in the UK to sell at below the fixed price. This practice is called 'parallel trading'.

The Pentos group, which owns the bookshop chain Dillons and has been the main opponent to the NBA, will challenge a court injunction taken out by the publishers in October which had prevented it from selling books at lower prices.

Terry Maher, chairman of Pentos, said: 'This ruling means the agreement is fatally flawed and is no longer legally valid.'

He said once the injunction had been removed, Pentos would reduce some books by up to 30 per cent. It would also run special promotions with banks that would include discounts - advertising methods that are banned at the moment.

Conditions set out in the NBA apply to all sales of books to the public in the UK or the republic by any wholesaler or retailer wishing to distribute a book at net retail price.

The deal is rigorously enforced but in 1988 the EC declared the arrangement illegal under rules on free competition.

The European Court yesterday said the commission was correct in its assessment that the NBA and its governing rules had an 'appreciable' effect on trade between member states, contrary to the Treaty of Rome.

The Publishers' Association, which brought the case to the European Court, was ordered to pay costs. It can now appeal to the European Court of Justice.

The association said the original commission order applied only to intra-community trade and not to the domestic operation of the NBA in the United Kingdom.

Peter Phelan, a consultant for the association, said it would take legal action if Pentos used parallel trading.

Tim Godfrey, director of the Booksellers' Association, said Pentos was the only major bookseller that did not welcome the NBA. He said most major sellers believed it was 'extremely beneficial' and it was also supported by many publishers, libraries and readers.

The judgment's immediate effects are likely to be limited, although booksellers in the Irish Republic will now be able to sell UK net books below the UK net price.

However, exports to the republic represent only 1.2 per cent of Britain's book production.

Gemma Barry, chairwoman of the Irish branch of the UK and Irish Booksellers' Association, said she was disappointed with the ruling and bookshops were unlikely to cut net book prices in the immediate future.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office and Customer Services Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small but very busy (and f...

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Recruitment Genius: Sales / Account Manager

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales / Account Manager is re...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot