25 October 07 | Chad W. Post

This was mentioned in a few places yesterday, but in case you missed it, German price fixing is at risk.

When I went to Germany on an editors trip organized by the German Book Office, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s illegal to discount books in Germany. No matter where you buy a book it’s always the same exact price. Like stamps.

Thanks to the chain stores and Amazon, discounts have become a way of life in America (and the UK), and it was refreshing to encounter a culture that valued smaller, independent booksellers by keeping the playing field a bit level.

(Someone out there may be able to answer this, but one potential wrench in the fixed price system is the discounts publishers give to booksellers. I remember an owner of an indie store in Munich telling us that she didn’t receive the same discount as a the chains, thus severely impacting her profit margin . . . But, this was years ago, and my memory may be as shoddy as her English was . . . )

Anyway, thanks to the Swiss, this system is in jeopardy. The Swiss government recently decided to allow the discounting of some German books, touching off an “Everybody Panic!” response among German publishers. And for good reason—although from an economics perspective, any hindrance to a free market is “bad,” this system really seemed to help smaller bookstores and publishers and make more books available to German readers, allowing community bookstores to be unique and stock books they’re interested in, rather than placing so much power in the hands of a few buyers at a couple chains.

Even the Swiss seem to agree that eliminating fixed prices could be detrimental to book culture:

I called Rafael Corazza, director of the Competition Commission, to ask what he was thinking. “It’s not normal for one market to have special regulations,” he explained. “It was a cartel. The German and Swiss booksellers said it was for a good purpose—they made a cultural argument, but we are an economic commission. They said the system fosters a broader, deeper market for books, that discounting will hurt the small booksellers who support the small publishers, and then you will have fewer books and more focus on best sellers.”

Are they right? I asked.

“I’m not quite sure they’re completely wrong,” he said.

That’s totally not reassuring . . . Every time I leave the States I realize how second-rate we are as a nation, and I’ll be personally disappointed if Germany isn’t able to preserve this part of their culture.

Coincidentally, PW ran an article yesterday illustrating the fucked up side of our discount-crazy book culture:

Amazon sold 2.5 million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows worldwide, making it the largest new product release in Amazon history. Because of the deep discounts on the title, however, Amazon did not quite breakeven on sales of Deathly.

That’s absolutely ridiculous, and no independent store can compete with a company willing to lose money on every copy of Harry Potter that it sold. My economics professor would hang me, but I wish we had price fixing here .. .


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
Faces in the Crowd
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
Reviewed by Valerie Miles

At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .

Read More >

Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia by Julio Cortázar
Reviewed by Cameron Rowe

Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .

Read More >

Self-Portrait in Green
Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .

Read More >

The Madmen of Benghazi
The Madmen of Benghazi by Gerard de Villiers
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .

Read More >

The Four Corners of Palermo
The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza
Reviewed by Patience Haggin

The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .

Read More >

Writers
Writers by Antoine Volodine
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .

Read More >

My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Reviewed by Acacia O'Connor

It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .

Read More >

Stealth
Stealth by Sonallah Ibrahim
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Egypt was going through a period of transition. The country’s people were growing unhappy with the corruption of power in the government, which had been under British rule for decades. The Egyptians’. . .

Read More >

Miruna, a Tale
Miruna, a Tale by Bogdan Suceavă
Reviewed by Alta Ifland

Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .

Read More >

Kamal Jann
Kamal Jann by Dominique Eddé
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >