On the 1st of January 1900 something magical happened (in my opinion.) The Net Book Agreement (NBA) was put in place, an agreement between The Publishers Association (TPA) and booksellers that allowed publishers to set a price book shops were allowed to sell books at. This meant that consumers weren’t ripped off when buying books, book shops weren’t getting ripped off when buying books from the publishers and authors were earning an honest wage.
But of course all good things need to come to an end and in 1997 this agreement was ruled as illegal and abolished. Honestly this was the worse thing that could have happened, this leading to a huge change in the way we buy and sell books which left hundreds of authors and independent book shops out of pocket.
Of course there’s plenty of people out there who would claim the abolishment was good, now allowing book shops to be competitive with book prices and giving consumers the chance to shop around, but this also means many amazing stories have gone unwritten as authors who didn’t get into the top percent of the book charts are no longer able to make money from writing them stories.
So if you know me or this blog at all you’ll know I’m hugely passionate about the independent book shop market alive. The NBA was a security blanket for them, meaning books had to be sold at a set price no matter if you were a small shop or a larger chain and for a long time no one complained about this, it was seen as a way of allowing everyone to have the same business and protect the smaller shops from their bigger competitors.
Of course there was some loopholes and exceptions to this rule as there is with anything like this. With the introduction of the education act in 1905 TPA decided that educational books were ‘non-net’ meaning they were able to be sold at a discounted price as well as publishers offering deals to libraries. Always nice to see the big guys looking after the little and often forgot guys.
As for the loopholes… well this is where things get a little murky. There was a clause in the agreement that said books that were ‘damaged’ or second hand could be sold at a discounted price. Now I know what you’re thinking ‘but Millennial Bookreader, that’s a good thing!” And I agree, It’s a really good thing! But it meant that when bookstores wanted to sell books for a discounted price because they were unpopular or there was an overstock they simply had to pre-damage a book. This was common practice and done by either marking the edge of the pages with pen or using a hole punch on the corner of the front page. This makes me giggle because it honestly sounds like something from a YouTube video. ‘5 quick hacks to sell books! You won’t believe what they do!’ I’ve even picked up books from second hand shops that have been ‘damaged’ in this way.
In 1991 Dillons started this trend followed by Waterstones.
Then in 1994 things started to slowly fall apart. The Office of Fair Trade suggested Restrictive Practices Court should look the agreement over. In 1995 some of the larger publishers including HarperCollins and Random House pulled out of the agreement. In 1996 TPA jumped ship and said they didn’t want anything to do with the case. (*Caugh* crappy of them *caugh*) Finally in 1997 the The Restrictive Practices Court ruled that the NBA was not in the public’s interest and was rules illegal. This was devastating to independent bookstores and authors. By 2009 500 book shops have closed though there has also been a decline in other European countries where something similar to the NBA is still in place.
It’s safe to say that I feel like the NBA should still be in place but with some changes. I feel it would help boost the second hand book market as well as the independent book shops while keeping everyone in the supply line from author to consumer happy.
I also feel like supermarkets didn’t have with the whole thing, they saw a gap in the market and jumped on it right away, allowing them to sell a couple of chart toppers for extremely discounted prices. The NBA being abolished was just the starting point for a lot of bad things. There was talk of bringing it back but nothing has happened since then.
This is why we can’t have nice things!
Check out my last blog post here: Bookshelf and room tour (2019)