PEN SA Welcomes News of Investigation into Alleged Book Price-Fixing by SA Publishers

03 Sep 2018
PEN SA Welcomes News of Investigation into Alleged Book Price-Fixing by SA Publishers

PEN SA welcomes the news last week that the Competition Commission “has initiated an investigation against the Publishers’ Association of South Africa (PASA) and its over 91 members for allegedly fixing the prices of books”. PASA is the largest publishing industry body in South Africa.

This comes after the Commissioner “received information pointing to the fact that the association and its members […] may have been involved in fixing prices of books in contravention of the Competition Act”, allegedly agreeing to fix prices and trading conditions for various types of books, most notably pre-school to grade 12 books, teacher’s guides and support materials, student textbooks, trade books and ebooks.

It is alleged by the Commission that these price fixing arrangements may date back to the 1980s.

Unlikely as it may be that every member of PASA – which includes organisations that are not publishers and publishers only recently formed – would be involved in such a scheme, it is the PEN SA Board’s opinion that these allegations must nevertheless be thoroughly investigated. In a country that is book-poor, due chiefly to the high costs and inaccessibility of books, all publishers, especially those that sell to the educational market, have a heightened responsibility to make sure their books are as accessible as possible. Such practices would go completely against PASA’s own stated commitments to “creativity, literacy, the free flow of ideas and encouraging a culture of reading.”

This responsibility is twinned with a responsibility to make sure that the selling market for books is open to all publishers, so that books may be selected and bought for the market on the basis of their quality and suitability for learners and students. Anti-competition practices formed the backbone of apartheid business, and do not belong in today’s publishing and literary industries.

Any allegations of collusion between publishers to consolidate the educational market for their sole gain must be investigated thoroughly. We will monitor the situation closely.

The Competition Commission’s full statement may be downloaded here.