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$9 hardcovers to hurt stores, authors, readers? Not in Europe, where there are rules about that

On Tuesday, we talked about how local independent booksellers are dealing with the news that Target, Wal-Mart and Amazon.com are selling some best-selling hardcovers for $9 — far below their cost.

But such a thing couldn’t happen in Europe, where they’ve got laws in most countries there — but not the U.K. — that require all bookstores, online retailers included, to sell books at prices set in stone by their publishers, says the Wall Street Journal.

And in Germany, the Journal says, it goes much further:

[Germany] outlaws the discounting of virtually all new books for 18 months. The system protects independent booksellers and smaller publishers from giant rivals that could discount their way to more market share. Along with some 7,000 bookshops, nearly 14,000 German publishers remain in business. Many are of modest size, like Munich-based Carl Hanser Verlag, which publishes the work of this year’s Nobel laureate, German-Romanian writer Herta Mueller.

“The smaller publishers get to publish quality works they never could afford to do without the fixed book price,” says Gerd Gerlach, owner of a small Berlin bookshop named after the 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine. “Everyone benefits, not least the reader.”

Also, Michael Hyatt, a publishing CEO, blogs that the current U.S. book price war will ultimately hurt not only publishers, authors and book stores, but ultimately even the mass marketers who started the deep discounting:

When publishers are forced to further reduce titles, or new authors just don’t have the same incentive to succeed, the pipeline of new book titles will dry up. Where will the next crop of new authors come from? Who will be the bestsellers of tomorrow? The mass retailers have had the luxury of being able to skim the cream off the publishing milk pail without investing in the process that creates the milk in the first place. In my opinion, they are about to kill the cow.

Consumers, too, he said, should be wary:

Yes, lower prices are good for consumers — in the short run. But they are not good in the long run if authors and publishers are no longer willing to assume the risk of creating and producing the kind of quality and selection consumers currently enjoy.

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