Today’s New York Times reports that the Swiss Competition Commission ruled to overturn the fixed-price law on books that has kept so many small publishers and booksellers alive in German-speaking countries. Rafael Corazza, director of the Competition Commission, said that the fixed-price law created “a cartel” out of the German and Swiss book markets, but said he was unsure whether this change would be good or bad for the industry. “Nobody knows for sure yet. But nobody can read on million titles, so the question is, is it better that more people read fewer books or that fewer people read a lot of different books?”
Fixed book prices in Germany means that the industry can sustain a large number of small publishers and booksellers that cater to niche audiences. The books that get published and sell are not dependent upon a few companies or bookstores, but rather reflect the diverse tastes of many readers and publishers. Germans are quick to defend this system because reading, education, and intellectual curiosity are key ingredients to Germany’s national identity.
The Swiss Competition Commission made the decision in May of 2007 to abolish fixed pricing on German books, and consumers can already see the effects. The German translation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold in Germany at the fixed price of 24.90 euros, but the Boersenblatt reports today that the books sold in Switzerland for 27 Franks, or approximately 16.20 euros.
I am not yet fully entrenched in the business side of publishing, but this seems to me a significant change for the German book market. Some customers might be tempted to buy their Harry Potter book from a Swiss bookstore rather than the little German shop around the corner. Swiss bookstores will have to charge more for the non-bestsellers to accommodate for the profits lost to discounts on the Harry Potter book, causing even fewer copies to be sold. Keep an eye on this. Germany is one of the strongest book markets in the world, and while it isn’t crashing down around us yet, the potential for dramatic change is in the air.