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Börsenverein: “Germany’s fixed book price system is a guarantor of quality and diversity”

Börsenverein issues statement regarding the Special Report on fixed book prices published by the Monopolies Commission In response to the publication of a report by Germany’s Monopolies Commission, the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German…
Erstellt am 01.06.2018

Börsenverein issues statement regarding the Special Report on fixed book prices published by the Monopolies Commission

In response to the publication of a report by Germany’s Monopolies Commission, the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association) reiterated its unwavering position on the importance of fixed prices as a means to protect and promote books as essential cultural goods.

Börsenverein Managing Director Alexander Skipis said with regard to the report: “The German book market is the second largest in the world and continues to function as a role model in terms of quality and diversity. We owe this standing to a system of fixed book prices that fulfils an essential twofold task: it fosters a delicate network of bookstores which act as essential cultural spaces and make books available to the wider public while also guaranteeing a broad and diverse range of books on offer. Indeed, fixed book prices promote and preserve books as cultural goods without unduly restricting competition, be it for domestic or foreign retailers. We already explained this in great detail to the Monopolies Commission”.
Skipis continued: “The Monopolies Commission based its Special Report on sparse and inadequate data. In fact, the report evaluates academic studies that are largely outdated, while also omitting to conduct their own examination of current market data. Ultimately, the Monopolies Commission simply repeats the same neoliberal positions that can be found in its 2000 report on fixed book prices. In addition, this year’s report contains an interpretation of the effects of the repeal of fixed book prices in Switzerland that is far from convincing. In this case, the commission overlooked evidence that the relatively stable situation of German-Swiss publishers is attributable to the fact that they generate more than 80 percent of their sales in a country in which the fixed price system is in effect, namely Germany. By contrast, the number of bookshops in the German-speaking part of Switzerland dropped dramatically following the repeal of the fixed book prices there”.

In contrast to the opinion of the Monopolies Commission, the Börsenverein does not agree that the October 2016 ruling by the European Court of Justice against fixed prices for German prescription drugs can be applied to the book market. Skipis argued: “The purchase of prescription drugs is not comparable with the purchase of books. The two markets function in fundamentally different ways. The view expressed by the judges with regard to the pharmaceutical sector – i.e. that foreign mail-order companies face competitive disadvantages in relation to retailers in Germany – simply does not apply to the book trade”.

Skipis also noted that Germany’s fixed price system enjoys tremendous support from political actors: “There is consensus among policy-makers with regard to the importance of the fixed price system for books from a cultural perspective. Legislators displayed this commitment in 2016 with their explicit extension of the fixed price system to include ebooks. The coalition agreement written up by Germany’s current federal government also recognises the indispensable role of the system of fixed book prices in maintaining the high level of diversity of the German market. The government is in fact keen to  further strenghten the law in order to prevent the fixed price system from being undermined by certain commission schemes”.

The Special Report of the Monopolies Commission has no direct impact on German law. As an independent advisory body, the Monopolies Commission advises the federal government and legislative bodies in the areas of competition policy, competition law and competition regulation.

Two expert reports commissioned

Earlier this year, the Börsenverein commissioned two academic studies in an effort to generate an independent, comprehensive and up-to-date appraisal of the necessity of fixed book prices. Prof. Dr. Georg Götz, Professor of Economics at Justus Liebig University in Gießen, is currently examining the fixed price system from an economic point of view. Prof. Dr. Andreas Fuchs, Managing Director of the Institute for Business and Commercial Law at Osnabrück University, is carrying out an examination from the point of view of antitrust law. The findings of both studies are expected to be published in 2019.

Germany‘s system of fixed book prices has been in existence since the 19th century and regulated by law since 2002. It requires publishers to set binding retail prices for their new releases. This means that consumers pay the same price for books wherever they choose to make their purchase, whether in a small retail bookshop, a large book store or via the internet. Different fixed prices can be set for different formats, such as hardcover editions, paperbacks and ebooks.

Click here to read (in German only) a detailed statement issued by the Börsenverein with regard to the Monopolies Commission: Commission.pdf

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