1 April 11 | Chad W. Post

As reported by Amanda DeMarco in Publishing Perspectives, Switzerland has reinstated its fixed price system for books.

On March 18 the Swiss parliament approved a fixed price system for books in German-speaking Switzerland, both for online and in-store sales as of next year. The debate over fixed book pricing is a complicated and volatile one in Europe. Various degrees of price control exist side by side, and countries vacillate on the legality and benefit of fixed price systems. In Germany all books, including e-books and books sold as apps, are included in the fixed price system. French law excludes books that don’t closely correspond to a printed edition (apps), as well as foreign buyers and sellers. Britain hasn’t had fixed book pricing since the Net Book Agreement was declared illegal in 1997.

I’ve written about the “fixed price scheme” several times before (even in 2007(!) in relation to the Swiss), but in case you’re not already familiar, under this law retailers are banned from discounting books. So if you want to buy The Pale King, it’s the same $27.99 at Barnes & Noble, your local indie store, and in the airport. (And, in some countries, on Amazon.com and other online retailers.) Based on the cited consequences of this law—more independent stores, more diverse selection, no discount battles on shitty best-sellers, etc.—I’m a big fan. And I know that’s quixotic, since half of Congress and 90% of corporate salarymen would shit themselves at the very idea of impeding the so-call free market. Which is dumb and deserving of another rant, but I’ll refrain and keep it on the Swiss:

Swiss publishing professionals often compare the effects of the repeal of fixed book pricing to those of the abolition of the Net Book Agreement in Britain: price wars over bestsellers, deep discounts of up to 30% by big booksellers like Thalia and Orell Füssli. Andreas Grob, Managing Director of Buchzentrum, a large distributor and wholesaler owned collectively by Swiss bookstores, has witnessed online sellers benefit while physical stores have experienced “ever-increasing problems.”

In Germany, where fixed book price law is strong, book prices have actually fallen in comparison with other goods over the past decade. Swiss book prices, in contrast, have risen over the past four years. “Economic theories say that free markets produce lower prices, but interestingly in the case of books that’s not so,” commented Dani Landolf, director of The Swiss Publishers Association (SBVV).

While bestsellers get deep discounts, the majority of other books become more expensive to fund the price wars. Sabine Dörlemann, president of Swiss Independent Publishers (SWIPS), expressed frustration that books from small publishers with tight budgets were assigned higher prices, which reduces sales though the publisher sees none of that extra money.

I love everything about this article, especially this bit:

The decision affirms the idea that books are not just like any other consumer product; their diversity and availability is desirable and demands protection. To have a variety of books, a variety of publishers is necessary; a large number of independent bookstores willing to stock titles from small and large presses alike is necessary for such a variety of publishers to thrive; and a fixed price system is needed to protect those bookstores, publishers, and ultimately authors. Or so the reasoning goes. For SWIPS, in the end the decision means that “more money ends up with us,” said Dörlemann.

Total win.


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