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You've got mail, the Greek way

05 February 2014 / 19:02:20  GRReporter
2843 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

Do you remember the film "You've got mail" from the long gone 1998? In it Joe (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen (Meg Ryan) are the owners of two competing bookshops. While Kathleen manages a small bookshop which she has inherited from her mother, Joe is the owner of the largest chain of bookshops in Manhattan. Initially, Kathleen ignores the multi-storey shop of the "Fox books" chain that is under construction on the opposite corner. Gradually she realizes that not only does the mighty competition threaten her small business but also it will swallow it up.

Big eat little fish, this is how Greek publishers describe the situation on the domestic market of books, if it is liberalized. In recent days, they have launched a massive campaign against the government's intention to repeal the law that provides for uniform prices of books in bookshops. According to the legal text voted in 1997 bookshops are not allowed to reduce the price of a book set by the publisher by more than 10% within two years of its publishing.

In this kind of "war”, they have the support of the majority of the writers and poets in the country, as demonstrated by the discussion which they organized at one of the biggest bookshop chains in Athens, "Ianos".

Its owner Nikos Karadzas defined the planned liberalization of the market of books as "incomprehensible", pointing out the strongest arguments of the opponents of the reform, namely that similar laws are in force in 13 European Union member states, including in developed and free economies like Germany and France.

According to writer and journalist Takis Theodoropoulos, the abolition of the uniform price of books will create an "oligopoly in the best-case scenario and monopoly in the worst." At the same time, he stressed that this will jeopardize the future of the Greek language because publishers will cease publishing valuable books because their audience is limited.

Publisher Stefanos Patakis was of the same opinion too. He said that the cancellation of the uniform price would force small bookshops to close in favour of the big chains, which are even now cornering publishers to lower retail prices. "The prices of books will not fall that way. The reduction will be transferred to the prices of other books and therefore the consumer will not save anything. The cancellation of the uniform price of books will take publishers to financial deadlock. Moreover, the law is related to the copyright of the writers, which will be affected as well."

Other arguments in favour of retaining the uniform price were related to the fact that the reform will threaten the future of the Greek language whereas the decrease in the price of books will not increase the interest in them. The publishers also presented data showing that the prices of books in Greece are lower than the European average prices anyway.

In this kind of "war" on the price of books in Greece, journalist Pashos Mandravelis who supports the reform is alone. "I read many books in English because I find them at half the price on the Internet," he said and rejected the view that there is a risk for valuable books to lose their value. "These books retain their prices even in fully liberalized markets such as that in the U.S. The cancellation of the uniform price will not have a serious impact on the economy; for me, it is more important to remove all restrictions and create better business conditions in the industry," added Mandravelis.

Members of the governing coalition and the opposition followed the discussion. All called for the retaining of the uniform price and said that when the matter comes for consideration by parliament they would vote against the reform.

During the debate, it became clear that Greek Prime Minister's advisor on cultural affairs Demosthenes Davetas also shares this view and he will advise Antonis Samaras to withdraw the change. Athens Mayor George Kaminis said he would propose to the City Council to vote on a declaration in favour of retaining the uniform price of books.

It is expected that the battle will be violent although the number of the supporters of the reform is lower than that of its opponents. In the film, Kathleen turns to her online friend Joe, as she is unaware of the fact that he is the owner of the large chain. Later she will find out the truth but love will conquer all.

Will the love of Greeks for books become greater if the uniform price is cancelled or their feelings are stronger when they pay for them the price set by publishers? Readers’ happy ending is not certain.

Tags: EconomyMarketsLiberalization of book marketUniform price of booksLaw
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