I’m skeptical of the hidden agenda suggested by this article in Ha’Aretz but you can judge for yourself.

The piece suggests that the rise of bookstore chains (most notably Steimatzky’s) has had a “massive impact” on Israeli literary tastes and has contributed to turning the People of the Book into the People of the Bestseller.

Here’s a quote from Professor Menahem Perry of the Hebrew Literature Department at Tel Aviv University:

 Bookstores have a huge influence on our reading and nowadays most book sales are done at Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim. I don’t see how that will change. The problem is that these chains have interests that consumers are unaware of. They exercise tremendous power over the consumers. The phenomenon that one enters a bookstore and finds a variety of classics like in Europe and America does not exist here.

Maybe. I’d still bet that Israelis read far more than the average American. But, that’s just my two shekels.

Crossposted at JewishLiteraryReview.com.

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  • It’s like complaining about Barnes and Noble or Borders. Ultimately, these stores are not ideological, they’re businesses and what drives their store set-up, title list and presentation is commerce. In other words, they don’t care whether they sell Charles Dickens, Homer or Martha Stewart as long as they sell.

  • i agree. i take more of a capitalist view when it comes to these things. professor perry is not the one putting up the money to open a bookstore, pay employees, etc.
    you’ve got to put out stuff that will sell. otherwise you won’t have any bookstore at all.
    hopefully, the stuff that sells will cover the cost of running the store and allow for the more ‘important’ books to be put on the shelves even though they have a smaller audience.
    of course, you could always go to amazon. they’ve got everything under the sun.
    come to think of it, i’m not sure amazon ships to israel.
    maybe some other folks on here can say if they do.

  • I largely agree with themiddle except there’s a question of scale… The market for a particular ‘literary’ novel for example is maybe 1 in 1000 people. As a generous estimate there’s maybe 8 million people in the world who can read a hebrew novel. Those sort of (admittedly made up) numbers mean that anything of a minority interest in hebrew has no chance of making money.

    In order to support a variety of books some sort of non commercial consideration has to be made somewhere (not necessarily the chain bookstores job though). I’m sure it’s probably a well known problem in some economics textbook. I just don’t think the ‘longtail’ can be as effective on such a small population.

    As far I know Amazon don’t carry hebrew books – I’ll just go and check…

  • I’m far from an expert since I’ve never published a book but I suspect the economics of publishers are far more challenging than those of booksellers. They also have to make ongoing decisions about what to publish in the hope that some books sell enough to support all the non-sellers. On visits to Israel, I’ve always been impressed with the range of titles available in Hebrew. I doubt there are many “classics” that haven’t been translated but even newer books are available in abundance. I’ve always been amazed by my friends’ bookshelves.

  • I might know more next week 🙂 I’ve just purchased the book “Häuser des Buches. Bilder jüdischer Bibliotheken” (= houses of the book. images / portraits of Jewish libraries) by Markus Kirchhoff, edited by the Simon-Dubnow-Institute for Jewish History and Culture. It might be interesting to consider that only about 0.5% of books written in Yiddish have been translated into English so far.

  • dr. perry is the man who came up with the notion that bilaik’s poetry is characterized by their self-inverting nature.
    he was right then, and by gum it seems like he is right now.