Chilling mystery: Why don't Mexicans read books?
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Moreover, price variations among bookstores can be huge. The new novel by Chilean-born author Roberto Bolaño, "2666," sells for 650 pesos ($58) at Un Lugar de la Mancha, an independent shop; at Gandhi, one of the largest chains, it can be had for 455 pesos ($40). But even that 43 percent savings is deceiving: In Argentina, with its larger concentration of readers, that same book can be had for the equivalent of $23.Skip to next paragraph
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Price fixing, say proponents, would help reduce wholesale prices across the board. Currently, bestsellers are relatively cheap, but prices for less popular books are sky high.
It's a system that's been successfully employed in a dozen countries in Europe, notably France and Spain, both of which suffered from bookstore closures before installing fixed prices. In both cases, the publishing industries enjoyed huge growth.
"Fixed prices are the only thing that prevents small bookstores and publishers from disappearing. Without them, there would be no variety, no specialization," Alfonso Otero, director of Fuentetaja, a bookstore in Madrid, says by phone.
But, some argue, the European countries already had a public predisposed to reading. "For the majority of Mexicans, bookstores are a completely alien place," says Jesus Anaya, editorial director at publishing house Grupo Planeta. Although more titles and lower prices would certainly appeal to current readers, he doubts they'll create new ones. "I'm not sure that waving a magic wand of fixed prices can bring this cadaver to life."
Moreover, there is a serious question about the legality of industry-imposed fixed prices. Like the US, Mexico has antitrust laws to prevent price manipulation that hurt the consumer. Critics say it's anticompetitive.
One frequently cited case is El Sotano, one of Mexico's largest bookstore chains, which has so far refused to stop asking for big wholesale discounts. As a result, several publishers say they've stopped selling to El Sotano, which declined to comment on the situation.
In response to the legal questions, the publishing industry has written a fixed-price bill they hope to present to the Mexican Congress before April. Currently, editors and booksellers are making their case to key congressmen and senators.
Congressman Jose Antonio Cabello, secretary of the Culture Committee, supports the bill, but says it'll have to pass the competition and economy committees before coming to a vote. "We'll have to push very hard for this to have a chance," he says, adding that just one dissenting voice from the publishing industry or a consumer group could skunk the bill. And it could be years before a vote occurs.
Mexico's Federal Competition Commission, meanwhile, could halt industry efforts to establish fixed prices at any time.
Still, many in the industry see no other option. "This isn't just an economic question. It's really a question of culture," says Henoc de Santiago, president of the Mexican Booksellers Association, which argues that the industry's woes are severe enough to threaten its long-term survival.
"If we don't give books a certain degree of protection, bookstores will continue to disappear, prices will continue to rise. Without fixed prices, there may not be any more books to read."