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Competition commission bans price fixing in book market

The Swiss competition commission on Tuesday banned price fixing for German language books in Switzerland, but the Association of Book Sellers and Publishers said they would challenge the ban.

This content was published on September 7, 1999 - 17:52

The Swiss competition commission on Tuesday banned price fixing for German language books in Switzerland, but the Association of Book Sellers and Publishers said they would challenge the ban.

“The book cartel is a child of the 19th century. Times have changed since the last century,” Roland von Büren told a news conference in the capital Berne, arguing that price fixing was violating Swiss anti-cartel laws and blocking competition.

About 90 percent of German-language books have the same price tag, irrespective of where and in which book shop customers buy the product. Even if ordered online, the book was still the same price, von Büren said.

The reason for this situation is an accord between publishers and bookstores to abide by agreed prices for books. Book stores that violate the agreement are either boycotted or fined.

“This agreement kills any competition,” von Büren said. The commission said an end to price fixing would increase competition and more differentiated pricing policies.

However, booksellers and publishers said they would challenge the ruling and take the case to the country’s highest court unless the decision was reversed.

Trade unions said they would appeal to the Cabinet, which can override the commission ruling, which, in theory, would take effect within 30 days.

The commission said that in issuing its ban it was merely following competition regulations, and that it was up to the government to decide on any exceptions for cultural reasons.

Swiss cultural circles -- including the prestigious Arts Council -- and Swiss writers, strongly criticised the ban.

Critics argue that hundreds of jobs will be lost as smaller bookshops and publishing firms will be forced out of business.

The wide variety of bookstores and publishers was of vital importance for Swiss culture and would take a severe dent, should the ban be implemented, critics said in reaction to the commission’s announcement.

The ban only affects German-language books and publishers. The situation in the French or Italian sector of the Swiss market is still being examined.

From staff and wire reports.

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