Quebec is looking at ways to help small independent bookstores compete against big box retailers by imposing fixed prices on newly released books.

Public consultation hearings began Monday on a proposal to allow retailers to knock off no more than 10 per cent from the cover price on new books for the first nine months after their release.

Some big box stores now offer new releases at 50 per cent off the suggested retail price.

Online retailers likely to win, bookstores say

"It's difficult battling perceptions that we are expensive, that the bigger box stores will always have everything in stock," said Judith Warne, who has owned the Librairie Au Bord Du Lac bookstore for the past 10 years.

However, Warne doubts regulating book prices would bring more customers to her store.

"All I can see it doing is driving more of the English market to the online providers," said Warne.

Distributors such as Amazon and Chapters would still be able to offer their customers major rebates, because they have warehouses based in Ontario and therefore would not fall under the proposed provincial regulation.

Blaise Renaud, chief executive officer of Quebec-based Renaud-Bray, fears if the regulation is implemented, it would put his online business at a major disadvantage.

"Even with 'brick and mortar' stores —we have a store in Gatineau which is just across the bridge from Ottawa," he said. "Who would buy their books in Gatineau if they know it's 15 per cent more expensive?" 

The committee is hearing from writers, publishers and library associations, as well as retailers including Costco, Amazon and Apple.