THE SOURCE: "Germany, by the Book" by Michael Naumann, in The Nation, June 18, 2012.
"IN GERMANY THE CULTURAL DEFINITION OF the 'book' as a major source of intellectual, scientific, economic, and aesthetic self-improvement has carried the day over the capitalist notion that a book is a commodity and therefore deserving of no special considerations. The book as such is sacred," writes Michael Naumann, editor of the German magazine Cicero and former CEO of the American publisher Henry Holt.
In the late 19th century, German publishers and booksellers created a price cartel, a voluntary arrangement whose terms "resembled a prenuptial agreement between both sides, based on trust, notarized by a lawyer's office, and armed with expensive sanctions." At the heart of this compact, enshrined in law in 2002 and since revised to cover Internet sales, Naumann argues, is the Germans' reverence for the book.
The shoestring-budget political or literary publisher benefits, as do houses churning out romances and thrillers and those that stay afloat by mixing "commercial tastes with classical literary ambitions." Readers can choose from a variety of works, including translations. Because Germany's 2,000 publishers issue a total of 90,000 titles annually--four times as many per capita as in the United States--competition is ensured; in Europe, only Iceland and Finland have lower average book prices. (France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, and Spain also have fixed-price agreements for books. …