Go to contents

Neighborhood bookstores and the fixed price system

Posted February. 01, 2013 04:06,   


Marie Seosa, the name of a small bookstore near downtown Seoul`s Tapgol Park, was opened in 1945. Not just a place where people buy and sell books, the store is where famous writers such as Kim Gi-rim, Kim Gwang-gyun and Kim Soo-yeong found peace. The owner was Park In-hwan, a famous poet who wrote “Wooden Horse and a Lady” and “As Time Passes.” The bookstore closed in less than three years but Park said, “I have no regrets. I’m just happy because I made friends there.”

The growing presence of online booksellers cyberbooks has led to the near extinction of brick-and-mortar bookstores. When Korea’s first Internet bookstore Yes24.com emerged in 1999, the country had around 5,000 bookstores nationwide but that number plummeted to 1,752 in 2011. Small bookstores disappeared because they could not compete with dominant online players who offered big discounts. Neighborhood bookstores buy books for a discount of 25 to 30 percent from publishers, but online competitors can get supplies at far lower rates on a selective basis because of bulk purchases. As a result, online bookstores have achieved rapid growth by offering books at lower prices than offline stores. The intense price competition of bestsellers has forced small neighborhood bookstores to close.

With the book market getting extremely competitive, critics are demanding a change in the fixed price system. Online bookstore Aladdin.co.kr has taken the lead in a petition drive against revising the Print Culture Industry Promotion Act, which was proposed to the National Assembly on Jan. 9 to bolster the fixed price system. Aladdin clashed with publishers but raised a truce flag Wednesday. As publishers banded together to stop selling books to Aladdin, the online seller issued a public apology, saying that it will resolve the problem after talks with publishers. Publishers and bookstores will launch a body to coordinate views on the fixed price system and discuss industry matters next week.

A book is like a bowl containing food for the soul and lays the foundation for intellectual culture. Given these characteristics, many countries have adopted a fixed price system for books, including 16 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. France bans discounts for books of more than 5 percent. Excessive price slashing could lead to the collapse of offline bookstores and threaten the diversity of publications. A price bubble from discounts can also have a negative impact on consumers. The hopes is that booksellers and publishers can agree on the fixed price system so that smaller stores can survive and more people can read books. People used to drop by bookstores and find good books. They are like libraries on the street. Streets without bookstores are too dry, aren’t they?

Editorial Writer Koh Mi-seok (mskoh119@donga.com)