German cabinet agrees to extend fixed prices to e-books

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The German cabinet has agreed to extend to electronic books a law that fixes book prices to protect bricks-and-mortar stores from being driven out of business and ensure the availability of a wide range of publications.

In addition, the law will be applied to cross-border book sales to buyers in Germany, regardless of where the seller is based, Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said in a statement on Wednesday.

The law on the pricing of German language books, under which publishers must determine a price for every title they sell, traces its roots to the late 19th century.

It is aimed at protecting small bookshops from being priced out of the market and at allowing publishers to make enough money via sales of bestsellers that they can afford to print more niche but culturally valuable publications in smaller runs.

Germany’s highest court last year ruled that certain discounts U.S. online retailer Amazon offered had breached the law.

E-books accounted for less than 5 percent, excluding textbooks, of Germany’s 9.3 billion euros’ worth of book sales last year, but the market has been growing as more consumers start using electronic reading devices.

The average retail price of a new release was 26.20 euros last year, according to the German book sellers’ association.

Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Hugh Lawson