Why are books so expensive in Spain?

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

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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