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.
....
A Greater Music
A Greater Music by Bae Suah
Reviewed by Pierce Alquist

A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee. . .

Read More >

Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata"
Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata" by Horacio Castellanos Moya; Eugen Ruge
Reviewed by Tim Lebeau

The dislocation of individuals from the countries of their birth has long been a common theme in contemporary literature. These two short novels recently translated into English appear firmly rooted in this tradition of ex-pat literature, but their authors eschew. . .

Read More >

Melancholy
Melancholy by László Földényi
Reviewed by Jason Newport

In Melancholy, Hungarian author, critic, and art theorist László Földényi presents a panorama of more than two thousand years of Western historical and cultural perspectives on the human condition known as melancholia. In nine chapters, Földényi contrasts the hero worship. . .

Read More >

The Hatred of Music
The Hatred of Music by Pascal Quignard
Reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .

Read More >

Fragile Travelers
Fragile Travelers by Jovanka Živanović
Reviewed by Damian Kelleher

In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .

Read More >

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei
Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger
Reviewed by Russell Guilbault

Eliot Weinberger takes big strides across literary history in his genuinely breathtaking short work, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, tracking translations of a short ancient Chinese poem from the publication of Ezra Pound’s Cathay in 1915 to Gary. . .

Read More >

Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages
Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages by Kyn Taniya
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .

Read More >

The Subsidiary
The Subsidiary by Matías Celedón
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .

Read More >

Thus Bad Begins
Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías
Reviewed by Kristel Thornell

Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .

Read More >

Death by Water
Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe
Reviewed by Will Eells

Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .

Read More >