The German Fixed Book Price Agreement

Today, someone at the Kindleboards pointed out an extensive article about the rise of Amazon at the US political magazine The Nation.

It’s a good article, but while I was at The Nation site, something else caught my eye, namely this article by Michael Naumann, longtime publishing industry insider and secretary of culture during the Schröder government, about the history of the German fixed book price agreement.

Now it must be said that I’m not the biggest fan of Naumann (we had a very mean name for him during his time as secretary of culture) and that I intensely dislike Cicero, the political magazine where he is editor in chief. And the article is full of self-congratulary bullshit about the German “Kulturnation” and the “wonderfully rich landscape of publishing and independent bookselling” in Germany – yeah, I groaned, too.

And I obviously disagree with Naumann about Amazon and the chainstores as threats to this “rich bookselling landscape”, because the “rich bookselling landscape” did not really serve my needs as a reader who prefers to read English language genre fiction. Hence, the advent of Amazon was a godsend to people like me, who prefer to read imported foreign language books in the original language, because such books were difficult and expensive to come by pre-Amazon. But then I guess Naumann never had that problem, because he used to work for one of Holtzbrinck’s US divisions and probably got the stuff for free that I had to special order or because he lived in Berlin where foreign language books were easier to come by than in Bremen or because he reads in translation.

Oh yes, and libreka does not simply sell e-books from all German publishers. You have to jump through a lot of hoops that are prohibitively expensive for indies like me.

However, if you ignore all the bullshit about the German “Kulturnation” and the rich bookselling and publishing environment and the swipe against the Catholic church (should that bother you), you nonetheless get a good overview over the history and development of the German fixed book price agreement and why it has been upheld even at a time when US publishers are under investigation for doing something similar.

Finally, I have to give Michael Naumann kudos for standing up to the noxious xenophobes at Barnes & Noble and over a Thomas Pynchon novel, too, no less.

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13 Responses to The German Fixed Book Price Agreement

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  2. Estara says:

    “the “rich bookselling landscape” did not really serve my needs as a reader who prefers to read English language genre fiction. Hence, the advent of Amazon was a godsend to people like me, who prefer to read imported foreign language books in the original language, because such books were difficult and expensive to come by pre-Amazon.”

    This!

    • Cora says:

      Exactly. I suppose Naumann never had that particular problem, because he probably reads in translation and thus cannot imagine that anybody might want a book that is difficult to come by in your friendly neighbourhood bookstore.

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  4. Daniela says:

    And I obviously disagree with Naumann about Amazon and the chainstores as threats to this “rich bookselling landscape”, because the “rich bookselling landscape” did not really serve my needs as a reader who prefers to read English language genre fiction.

    Oh yes, THIS!

    And as smeone who has lived in Berlin I can tell you that even there getting English books was a horror. Forget the big bookstores that actually cartered to the university. They carried the stuff that was popular and the things that the university-professors ordered in advance. And maybe a few classics, but not all of them and definitely almost no genre-fictions, most definitely no fantasy or SF.

    I found one bookstore that specialized in ordering US books but they were in the middle of nowhere and it took almost an hour by public transport to reach them (one way!). And they were expensive as well. And it’s not only books, but DVDs/BluRays and music as well.

    I would go with your assement that he read translations or maybe more German writers.

    • Cora says:

      I was comparatively lucky, because in the pre-Amazon/pre-chainstore era, Bremen had a big independent bookstore with a comparatively large foreign language department, which included a single spinner rack of English language SFF paperbacks. The selection was biased towards certain publishers, there was a lot of Del Rey and Tor (both coincidentally owned by German companies) and Ace and Avon, but no Baen or Roc or DAW whatsoever, which led to some very strange blind spots in my reading, because certain books simply weren’t available. Still, it kept me supplied with SF and I discovered Anne McCaffrey and Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clake and many others in that lone spinner rack. That store is gone now, killed off ironically not by the rise of Amazon but by a business specializing in ordering US and British books (which I never patronized, because they were less reliable than the other store), which in turn was killed off by Amazon.

      But the English language book selection at chain stores, train station and airport stores and even the university bookstore is still a mix between bestsellers, ninety percent of which seem to be thrillers by authors I don’t like, literary fiction of academic interest and classics. Those stores are okay if I’m looking for the latest Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb or Charlaine Harris or another similarly popular author, but flat out useless for anything else. For that I need Amazon.

      I also hear you on DVDs. Filesharing would be drastically reduced if it were possible to get imported DVDs close to the release date, for a reasonable price and without the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle having a heart attack because an adult wants to purchase a foreign DVD of a film/TV show they haven’t rated.

      It’s great that Michael Naumann can find what he wants to read at his friendly neighbourhood indie bookstore. But plenty of people have needs that are not covered by the neighbourhood indie bookstore.

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