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.
Rambling Jack
Rambling Jack by Micheál Ó Conghaile
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“50 pages?”
“Including illustrations.”
“And this—what. . .

Read More >

The Things We Don't Do
The Things We Don't Do by Andrés Neuman
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .

Read More >

Private Life
Private Life by Josep Maria de Sagarra
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:

When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .

Read More >

Dinner by César Aira
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .

Read More >

We're Not Here to Disappear
We're Not Here to Disappear by Olivia Rosenthal
Reviewed by Megan C. Ferguson

Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .

Read More >

The Queen's Caprice
The Queen's Caprice by Jean Echenoz
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .

Read More >

French Concession
French Concession by Xiao Bai
Reviewed by Emily Goedde

Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .

Read More >

Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

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