Government won’t budge on book prices

Initiatives to promote reading won’t be enough to save the industry, book shop association argues

Aside from Enhedslisten (EL), all of parliament’s parties agreed to keep book prices unregulated, despite the complaints of a national book industry under pressure.

“There is no parliamentary agreement that reverting to market-regulated pricing will solve the book industry’s issues,” the culture minister, Marianne Jelved (Radikale), wrote in a press release.

The financial problems of the book industry have been an issue for some time now. Authors, dealers and publishers have all contended that political interference is the only way to save a beleaguered industry that has seen book shops shutter, publishers cut staff and writers fear for the future of their trade.

But instead of tampering with the market, the politicians have agreed to launch a series of initiatives that will “promote Danes’ desire to read literature,” Jelved wrote.

The book industry received the news with mixed emotions, with the authors’ association, Danske Skønlitterære Forfattere (DSF), positive about the direction of the debate.

“I can only be pleased that they are talking about supporting literature even more,” Ingelise Hornemann, the head of DSF, told DR News. “It’s a positive development but we need to specify what is behind these seemingly fine intentions.”

The industry firmly believes that the liberalisation of the Danish book market in 2009 was what catalysed their crisis. Retail prices became unfixed and subsequently supermarkets began selling books at reduced prices that forced bookshops to lower their own prices to compete.

Bookshop owners were critical of the political decision, saying it is too vague.

“The liberalisation has gone too far and the competition is devastating,” Olaf Winsløv, the head of bookshop association Boghandlerforeningen, told DR. “If the politicians care about the Danish book industry, which they say that they do, then they should realise that something must be done.”

Last week the government rejected a book industry proposal to lock book prices for a six-month waiting period in order to secure a broader appeal for authors that are less popular with the masses.

Winsløv argued that the political initiatives to promote reading won’t be enough.

“Libraries can’t stimulate the desire to read alone. The private consumer still needs to buy books in order to get future generations used to the idea that books are something that are a part of everyday life,” Winsløv told DR.

Since 2000, the number of physical bookshops in Denmark has dropped from 423 to 338, with 18 shops closing down in 2012 alone.