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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral