Quebec’s PQ government moves to limit discounts on new books

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois (CP file photo)

Quebec really is a province like no other in Canada.

It's a beautiful province, with a great people and a vibrant culture. But its Parti Quebecois government sometimes does unorthodox things in the name of protecting said culture.

Earlier this week, the Canadian Press reported that the PQ intends to introduce legislation, in the new year, that would ban bookstores from offering deep discounts on new releases.

Specifically, retailers — online, digital and traditional — would not be allowed to offer discounts to Quebecers greater than 10 per cent on new books for the first nine months of their release.

They're doing it — apparently — to protect small and medium sized stores from the 'big bad box stores' like Costco and Walmart, which often offer markdowns in the range of 20 to 30 per cent.

"A book is not a commodity like any other," Culture Minister Maka Kotto told CP.

"Framing the price of new printed and digital books allows the consolidation of the network of bookstores that guarantee access to a diversity of titles and provide venues for our authors in all regions of Quebec.

"The bookstores are key players in our society. Besides promoting our writers, they help us to know new ones. Without them, Michel Tremblay, Dany Laferriere, Chrystine Brouillet, Jocelyne Saucier, Eric Dupont or Kim Thuy would not have known the success they have today."

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According to a Toronto Star article, the policy — which is supported by the union of Quebec writers — is modeled after policies in France, Mexico, South Korea and Germany.

But there's little evidence that the policy will actually help save mom and pop stores and promote Quebecois literature.

"These measures have not slowed the widely noted decline of small bookstores in Western countries," the Montreal Economic Institute — a right leaning think tank — noted in a report they published earlier this year.

"In France, after the adoption of the fixed price law, traditional bookstores only enjoyed a two-year respite. Subsequently, the decline of French bookstores resumed."

MEI's research also shows that book sales in the province would suffer — by as much as 17.6 per cent — because of the higher prices.

"People who do the least reading are the most sensitive to this type of measure,” said MEI economist Youri Chassin, citing a poll that claims 74 per cent of 'occasional readers' in that province reject the measure.

"Prohibiting discounts on books when they are released would have a greater effect on people who read little and would undermine efforts to encourage reading"

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Moreover, there are questions with regards to how effective the legislation will be if it passes in the minority National Assembly: how exactly will the government stop retailers in other provinces or in other countries from selling to Quebecers online or from Quebecers going to other provinces to shop?

You'd assume this would hurt all retailers in the province: big box stores and otherwise.

I think everybody understands that Quebec faces a big challenge to maintain it's language and culture within a continent dominated by the English language. But this policy is clearly bad for consumers and bad for business.

Is the PQ putting ideology before good policy? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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