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Fixed Book Prices in Germany

8 November 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

A new defense of Germany’s fixed prices for books has been issued this morning (November 8) by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels—the country’s publishers and booksellers association.

In 2018, the Börsenverein commissioned new research on the issue—described as a team of economists and a legal scholar—to study what the organization today calls “the impact and legitimacy of Germany’s fixed book price system in an independent and comprehensive manner using the most up-to-date information possible.”

. . . .

For some brief background on the issue, fixed prices on books in Germany have long been a tradition and were codified in law in 2002. The effect of the fixed price is that a book—whether sold online or in a physical retail setting—has exactly the same price nationwide. A publisher sets the price for its books in each format. After 18 months, that publisher can cancel the fixed price, and discounting is allowed in cases of defective copies or bulk pricing.

As today’s media messaging points out, 13 European countries have fixed pricing on books, and those nations include Austria, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Hungary. Outside of Europe, books are sold on a fixed price system in markets including Mexico, Argentina, and Japan.

And as it turns out, the Börsenverein’s study is a kickoff to a campaign hashtagged #dankbuchpreisbindung, or “thank fixed book prices.”

The organization is offering posters, site banners, email signature graphics, and other collateral materials to spread messages—in bookstores and other venues—such as “Price Comparisons Are Futile” and “We Have More [Books] for the Same Price.” This signage also reads, “You pay the same for a book anywhere in Germany. With us you get competent advice and a smile for free.”

. . . .

And the release of the new pro-price-fixing report today—in news reports characterized as costing some €300,00—is an answer, in part, to a report from the country’s Monopolies Commission which, in 2018, recommended discarding fixed prices on books. In very general terms, the commission’s opinion last year indicated that price fixing wasn’t based on a clear demonstration of its value and was out of step with contemporary market dynamics.

. . . .

The key statement issued today by the Börsenverein is: “Germany’s system of fixed book prices and the extensive landscape of bookshops it supports play a key role in the dissemination of books as essential cultural goods, while also fostering the quality and variety of books available to consumers. The system is also in line with EU law.”

. . . .

In a prepared statement, Skipis is quoted, saying, “Once again, it’s all there in black and white. Germany’s fixed book price system acts as a guarantor of quality and diversity on the book market.

“It’s one of the factors contributing to Germany’s reputation as a role model across the globe and its status as the second-largest book market in the world.

“The findings show very clearly that fixed book prices fulfill their obligation to protect books, especially in the contemporary market situation.”

. . . .

“For almost 150 years now, Germany has had a system of fixed book prices. The system guarantees a dense network of bookshops that act as key locations for the dissemination of literature and as indispensable distribution channels, especially for small and medium-sized publishers. Precisely because of this key role, price fixing for books is also widely supported in the political sphere.”

. . . .

Beurich, the bookseller, adds, “The research findings show how indispensable the stationary book trade is, especially for cultural diversity in our country. When bookstores disappear, people lose important contact points and thus access to books. Bookstores are places that foster exchange among local residents, while also promoting literary education, cultural work, literacy and a love of reading.

“The study also showed that a number of highly interesting books and authors would never have been discovered without stationary bookstores.”

. . . .

“Fixed book prices make books less expensive on average. Following the abolition of the system of fixed book prices in the UK, the average price of books there rose by 80 percent between 1996 and 2018. The increase was much stronger than in the same time period in countries that have fixed books prices, such as France (+24 percent) and Germany (+29 percent).

“Only bestsellers are less expensive in the UK than in Germany. With roughly the same share in overall sales, the 500 top-selling books make up roughly 26.6 percent of total revenue in Germany; in the UK, they make up 21.5 percent of total revenue. The analysis of the 50,000 best-selling books in the UK from 2005 to 2018 showed that the higher the sales rank a book has, the higher the average discount retailers offer on the publishers’ suggested retail price, and therefore the less expensive the book will be for the client.”

. . . .

“The stationary book trade fosters the discovery of unknown titles and authors. The studies showed that sales at stationary bookshops foster the future success of a large number of lesser-known titles and authors. Out of 420 fiction titles that did not reach the top twenty spots on the bestseller lists until after three weeks or more between 2011 and 2018, sales in local bookshops were solely responsible for that rise in 237 cases (56.4 percent) and largely responsible for that rise in the case of 171 other titles (40.7 percent).”

. . . .

  • “The system of fixed book prices in Germany does not hinder market access for foreign mail-order companies or online sellers;
  • “If, in a hypothetical case, there was an existing interference with the free movement of goods, it would be justified by the protection of books as essential cultural goods; and
  • “Germany’s system of fixed book prices is compatible with European competition law.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

“[A]ll is in a man’s hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that’s an axiom. It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most.”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Non-US, Pricing

4 Comments to “Fixed Book Prices in Germany”

  1. I thank Germany for fixing the prices of their books, as it makes my self-published offering look worth a read as they are much cheaper than what a proper German book would cost them.

    .

    There is one way to find out if a man is honest — ask him. If he says “Yes” you know he is crooked. — Groucho Marx

  2. “The findings show very clearly that fixed book prices fulfill their obligation to protect books, especially in the contemporary market situation.”

    Protect them from what?

  3. The study also showed that a number of highly interesting books and authors would never have been discovered without stationary bookstores.

    Sie sind Neandertaler!*
    und grasping at monopolistic straws.

    Harald aus Hannover

    * The first recognized Neanderthal remains were discovered in the Neander Valley (“Neandertal”) in Germany in 1856. In case you’re wondering.

  4. Did Porter Anderson forget to mention he was paid by the Frankfurt Book Fair to write this article?

    “Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair’s 2019 International Excellence Awards.”

    LOL.

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