There’s a fascinating op-ed in today’s New York Times by Pamela Druckerman comparing the American and French book-selling sectors. Her piece is prompted by the debate sparked by Amazon’s dispute with publishing house Hachette and the growing realization of just how much of the book-selling market Amazon controls in the United States.
Druckerman focuses on the issue of discounting, which is Amazon’s forte. The French–and a lot of other countries, it turns out–have for decades before the rise of online retail have deliberately enacted laws to protect book-seller diversity. It has amounted to a remarkably prescient defense of “biblio-diversity”, if you will. And it has apparently been done with a strong sense of cultural values rather than simply a case of protectionist business lobbying.
“The French secret is deeply un-American: fixed book prices. Its 1981 “Lang law,” named after former Culture Minister Jack Lang, says that no seller can offer more than 5 percent off the cover price of new books. That means a book costs more or less the same wherever you buy it in France, even online. The Lang law was designed to make sure France continues to have lots of different books, publishers and booksellers.
Fixing book prices may sound shocking to Americans, but it’s common around the world, for the same reason. In Germany, retailers aren’t allowed to discount most books at all. Six of the world’s 10 biggest book-selling countries — Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Spain and South Korea — have versions of fixed book prices.”
“Quite simply,” Druckerman writes, “the French treat books as special.”
The whole piece is well worth a read. If Druckerman’s name sounds familiar, she’s the author of Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.