Books still selling after discounts trimmed by law

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Books still selling after discounts trimmed by law


Signs offering discounts are gone from Kyobo Bookstore’s Gwanghwamun branch in central Seoul. New signs warn customers that they will get no more than a 15 percent discount on books.

Korea started to apply its stricter book price law on Friday. Although the country had a similar law in the past, the government saw the need to tighten up the rules to stabilize prices in the publishing industry and protect smaller independent bookstores from giant online retailers.

However, the scene at Kyobo Bookstore on the first day of the revised law going into effect wasn’t much changed, even as book prices on average went up by a couple hundred won, about a few dollars.

“I already thought we had this price-fixing law on books, so I didn’t really feel any difference here,” said Lee Han-seok, a manager at a local network company. “I usually buy 20 to 30 books to give to my clients toward the end of each year, and I’ll be doing the same this year.”

The price hikes will be a burden to regular book buyers.

“I won’t stop buying books,” said Lee A-lim, a sophomore at the Catholic University of Korea who buys books two or three times a month. “But I worry that even the littlest price adjustment might impose as a burden over the long term for college students like myself.”

The new regulation will only allow books to be discounted up to 10 percent, with an additional reduction of 5 percent permitted under company membership plans. Previously, booksellers could give a maximum reduction of 19 percent - up to 10 percent in cash and 9 percent in membership points - for newly published books or those released less than 18 months ago. There were no restrictions on discounts for books older than 18 months, which are now covered under the revised restrictions.

Kim Hee-bum, the vice minister of culture, sports and tourism, said earlier this month it might feel as if the prices are high in the short run, but in the long run the new rules will stabilize the market, which will eventually benefit consumers.

But some worry that higher prices will push consumers away. Stores used to give discounts up to 90 percent to clear out their warehouses, which will no longer be allowed.

Overnight, some books received higher price tags. A full set of the cartoon “Misaeng,” which hit No. 1 on best-seller lists, is now 90,000 won, up one-third of its previous selling price.

“If the new law entails higher book prices, it will naturally make the demand for books decrease,” said the Korea Development Institute in a report on Sunday. “Withering of consumer sentiment can be detrimental to the publishing industry.”

On the first day, Kyobo Bookstore actually saw more sales than on the same day last year, up 30 percent. Yes24, one of the largest online bookstores in Korea, saw a 33.7 percent increase on Friday compared to the same day last year.

“Since the website went down Thursday, some regulars who were waiting to purchase books made their move on Friday and that pushed sales up,” said Yoon Mi-hwa, a director at Yes24’s marketing team.


BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]


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