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Why are books so expensive in Spain?

If you've ever stepped into a Spanish bookshop and been shocked by the price tags you're not the only one. In Spain, you can expect to pay up to three times as much as you would for a book in the UK. So why is reading so expensive?

Why are books so expensive in Spain?
Book in Spain can be three times more expensive thn in the UK. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

In Spain, reading can be a costly pastime.

According to Statista, the average price of a book in 2019 was €19.99. Meanwhile, in the UK, book prices reached a record high in 2019, but still remain much lower. British readers pay on average £8.70 (€10.60) for a book.

In the US, paperbacks usually cost between $13.95 (€11.85) and $17.95 (€15.25).

So what explains this disparity?

The main reason that books are expensive in Spain is that book prices are regulated.

Spanish law states that “any person who publishes, imports or re-imports books must establish a fixed price of sale to the public,” and this must be done “independently from where the book is being sold.”

This means that it’s the publishers and not the booksellers who determine the retail price of their books.

The aim of this is to promote non-price competition between booksellers, and it’s also a way of promoting the sale of little-known books rather than only catering to blockbusters.

Other countries like France and Germany have similar laws restricting book prices. 

Booksellers are also not allowed to offer more than a 5 percent discount off the cover price.

This doesn’t mean shops are never allowed to reduce prices by more than 5 percent, but there are strict rules on when they are allowed to do so (such as when books are several years old or second hand).

Books are cheaper in the UK because it got rid of its own law regulating book prices in the 1990s, when the Net Book Agreement (NBA) was declared illegal. One negative outcome of this however, is that since then 500 independent bookshops have closed in the UK, and now chain stores like WHSmiths and Waterstone’s are the norm.

While independent bookshops make up most of Spain’s bookselling sector, many have closed in the past few years as they struggled with the arrival of Amazon, which was able to offer fast home delivery and reduced or even no shipping fees.

High book prices are likely partly to blame for Spain’s low number of readers. According to a 2018 report by the CEGAL Spanish association of booksellers, 21 percent of the population never or only occasionally reads.

READ ALSO: Ten great books about Spain

When it comes to household expenditure in newspapers, books and stationery, Spain ranks bottom of the list compared to other EU countries, according to a report by Eurostat. In 2016, households in Spain devoted 0.7 percent of their household expenditure to reading, compared to 2.1 percent in Slovakia and 1.6 percent in Germany.

However, the lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic actually helped reverse this trend, as people used their time at home to take up reading. According to a recent survey, the number of frequent readers went from 50 percent to 54 percent during the pandemic.

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WOMEN'S RIGHTS

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.




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