Olli’s Saturday School – Buchpreisbindung

Good morning, class!

Today we’ll talk about books, book related words and stuff like that. Being an enthousiastic reader I somehow fell in with a crowd of writers and other book related people, which is all kinds of awesome, because

– it gives me insights in the creative and logistical processes behind one of the things I love most
– those I found are just genuinely awesome people, and awesome friends are awesome.

But I digress. Anyway, naturally this means I see and take part in a lot of book-related conversations with people writing, editing or publishing their books, but also talking about book formats, pricing, making a livelihood from it and all that. One of those sparked this post.

Let’s start with the basics, though.

The German word for book is Buch.
chapter – Kapitel
page – Seite
paragraph – Abschnitt
line – Zeile
word – Wort

Buying books is pretty easy in Germany. You can find them everywhere, not only in book shops. The German word for a book shop is Buchhandlung. Buchhändler, which translates to book seller is an actual certifiable trade you can learn in Germany.

I am sad to report that while ebooks and readers do exist in Germany and the debate vs. real books is there as well, we don’t actually have different words for them that are widely used.

But there’s something else we have, that is quite common in a lot of European countries ((I didn’t know that part until recently)) but pretty much unknown in the rest of the world.

It’s that weird word in the title of this blog post.


Book. Price. Bindung?

In short: we have laws that control how books are priced. I shall now pause for you to be shocked.


Books that are published in Germany have fixed prices. Businesses selling books are not allowed to deviate from that price. Ever seen those 2 for 5 bucks deals in book stores? Doesn’t actually exist here.

Publishing companies in Germany are legally required to give a fixed price for their products if those are books, sheet music, maps and several similar products or combinations thereof, if the book part is the main component of the bundle.

Used books or books that have officially been released from the Preisbindung may be sold for whatever price, but there are strict rules as to when products can be released from it.

This is not even a new thing. Buchpreisbindung has first been intruduced to Germany in 1888.

Ebooks have been kind of a grey area for a while, but the association that represents the publishing industry ((from publisher via distribution to actual book sellers)) decided that ebooks are to be considered as books in this matter.

There have always been discussions about the benefits or dangers of this law, that partially is supposed to protect books as a cultural asset, make sure that book stores tend to stock a wide range of books and not only best selling products and avoid price wars that smaller stores would lose.
That is also the main benefit of the whole thing in my opinion.
As someone working in sales, I do get a lot of people asking for my help, opinion and consultation just to order something I recommended from some online shop who sells it 3 bucks cheaper.

The danger of that happening in a book store in Germany is pretty low. If the store stocks the book, you’d just take it with you. They are also always happy to order, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to arrive overnight, even if the order is rather late. And you won’t save money ordering it off Amazon anyway, so why bother and wait?

Since this is a thing where Germany differs A LOT from the US and UK, and since I know ((assume and hope)) a number of passionate readers ((of books, not necesssarily this blog)) and maybe writers will read this, I’d love to discuss that with you. What do YOU think of it? Send a comment, message or tweet my way. I’d love to chat.

Back to a final interesting tidbit of language shenanigans!

There are two main formats of paper books. One of them is called gebundenes Buch. That translates to bound book and is just our word for a hardcover. That word – as well as paperback or softcover – has wormed itself into common use in Germany, but the actual German word for those last two is Taschenbuch. Which translates to pocket book


That is kinda funny, because it covers both of the two in the following picture. The SD memory card is for scale, I am out of bananas.2014-08-20 19.48.26



A while ago in a twitter conversation about lifechanging books, @CairnRodrigues mentioned Henri Charrière’s Papillon, a book I have read. ((woo!))
That book actually has some relevance for me when you think about turning points in life. Somehow.

13 years and about a month ago I was about to take my oral and final examination for my Abitur ((the secondary school certificate  required to study at a university. which I didn’t.)).
The subject was geography. I was neither worried nor comfortable with it. I never had any phobic reactions to exams but I didn’t go into them as if it was nothing either.
In theory, this examination could cover anything we talked about in the final two or three years at school. In fact, the three students that had to go through this exam, me included, had a meeting with our teacher and we got a few subtle hints on what to prepare for.
And, of course, the usual “keep up to date with the news, it’s always good to work current events into what you have to say”.

Tradition had it, that during the two days of the examinations the students of the year before the final provided cake and coffee for those being under the scrutiny while waiting and preparing. So a few of us sat there, waiting, munching cake without much appetite, until our respective teacher came in, led us to an empty room and handed us a sheet of questions to think about for about 30 minutes.
After that they put a collar on us and led us to the gallows ((examination room)).

When I entered the room, I noticed a few things.
The front desk, where I would sit.
All of the schools current geography teachers, including the headmaster and one teacher who always made fun about geography but apparently wanted to see how I’d do ((he was my history, German and philosophy teacher at the time)) were looking at me. Oh dear.
There was a map and the blackboard.

My geography teacher led me into the room, ushered me to the front desk and said: “Feel free to use the map or blackboard if you want to show or visualize something!”

What I said was something like “Ok” or “Thanks”.
What I thought was “I’m not going to get up from this damn chair until this ordeal is over!”

Next I talked for maybe ten to fifteen minutes about the questions and information they gave me to prepare, a little bit about US oil policy, climate in different locations and I think agriculture in Northern America. ((Germany approaches Geography in a very global way, it not only covers locations of places, but also economy, climate and maybe even politics and the way they might be affected by geographical conditions. It’s a coincidence that this year NA was part of the topic))

After that I answered a few questions, responded to a hint or two. Then the teachers grilling me looked at each other. “Ok?” “Yes.” “Good.” *nods all around*
Then one of them asked me the final question: “Is there anything you want to add, maybe something you read in the past few days…?”

I knew what they were talking about, but I have always been bad keeping up with current events and even though I knew it might be relevant, I never bothered during the wait for the big day. I pretty much went about my days the way I’d always done. I read through my materials about the topics relevant for the exams, but that was pretty much it.

My answer to the questions provoked a few things. One of them made a “He didn’t really just say that face”, anotherone just grinned, and then my teacher said: “Ok, thank you, you’re done here. You will all get the results tomorrow at 4PM.”

What I said was: “Papillon, but I doubt that will help me here!”

I got 12 out of 15 points, if anyone cares.

my one true love

Don’t fret, it’s not as cheesy as the title might suggest. As some others, this blog post was prompted by the 52 photos project. This week’s photo prompt: hearts.

At first I was caught by surprise. Hearts? I don’t have anything to do with hearts in my archive! Where am I going to find something heartsy to photograph?

Well, here’s what I came up with.

my one true love

my one true love

Yup. If I ever had a “true love”, it’s probably books. Lost in a good book is when I’m happiest. It’s my escape from everything. My personal time machine, my portal into another world. The story might be sad or even gruesome but reading, living a fictional character’s feelings has always allowed me to forget everything around me for a while.

Even when I didn’t need it, I enjoyed it.

Some proverb says “a book is like a garden in your pocket”. I like to think that a book is like a vacation.

I’ve started early, and I’ve read pretty much every kind of story, I guess. As a toddler ((so I was told)) I couldn’t get enough of a certain children’s book. I’ve had it read to me so often that at the age of three or four I “read” ((well, recited)) it to my sister who is two and a half years younger than me.

It must have been bliss for my parents when I started to read by myself.
Comics from the doctor’s waiting room are among my earliest memories. The “Fury” novels by Miller ((that black mustang stallion, you might remember the old monochrome TV show)) and the Winnetou stories by Karl May ((a German classic, not sure how well they are known in other countries)) probably were my first novels, I must have started with them at the age of  nine.

I had two main sources of books. Our village library, ran by the church, was one of them. I’d usually spend my Thursday afternoons there, browsing for new books to read. That is, as soon as I overcame my initial shyness and started going there on my own. It was ridiculously cheap to rent a book for up to a fortnight ((I love that word)) and I never returned a book late.

The second source was friends of the family. People that somehow knew ((I suspect my parents told)) that I was the bookish kind. Those were the best days, when a box of old books was dropped off at my parents’ place and I had a new pile of books to devour. I think I was about 12 when I first read Moby Dick. ((as I said, I read about everything))

Starting with the bibliography of Karl May and his wild west/Northern Africa stories I devoured everything from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to Alister MacLean’s WWII thrillers. Spy stories was something I grew into in my early teens, but I also didn’t stop at the classic adventure stuff of J.F. Cooper or Jack London.

Back then, finding gifts for my birthdays or Christmas was really easy. I’d usually get some book and the warning “don’t read it all in one night”.

Ha, one night? Yup. One night. A lot of kids fight with their parents about staying up late to watch TV. I never did. I went to bed early, opened a book, turned off the light when my mom shouted, waited 20 minutes, turned it on again, hoping nobody would notice. Occasionally they did.

Practise made me a fast reader, so one of the requirements for book gifts I kiddingly gave when asked would be “600 pages plus”.  I also never had trouble reading books more than once. When I watch a movie or play a video game for a second time, it occasionally feels like a waste of time to me. This NEVER happened to me with a book. There are several books ((some of the Winnetou stuff, Terry Pratchett’s “Interesting Times” and Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” to name a few)) that I know I have read probably about 20 times each. I am not exaggerating.

Being a rather fast reader helps, I suppose. I don’t skim books, I actually remember lots of details from the books I’ve read. But starting early and literally reading heaps of books of nearly every genre helped with that.

To illustrate: I must have been about 16 when I went into the library, not exactly knowing what to look for. So I asked the librarian, who’d known me for a while, if there was anything interesting, preferably long. She asked me if I’d heard about Noah Gordon’s “The Physician” ((It’s a story set in the early middle ages, German paperback had roughly 1200 pages)). I hadn’t, so I took it with me. On a Thursday. You should’ve seen her face when I brought it back on Sunday (the next day the library would open). It took me two and a half days to read it.

Of course I’ve  always had phases in my life where I didn’t read that much. I just wasn’t in the mood, couldn’t find anything that kindled my interest for a while, didn’t want to reread any of the books I had around or simply didn’t have time and leisure because I was in the military. But there was always a point where I turned back to my one true love. Books.

A big “reading phase” started when I was introduced to the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. It was in 1997, on our first orchestra trip to Poland. I sat next to the drummer for about 18 hours, and he had a book with him. Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures. He giggled a lot, so at some point I skimmed over a dialoge between Victor and Gaspode (yes, I remember). He noticed and told me I could read along if I liked. I was a little puzzled, hadn’t talked much to him before, but since we had nothing else to do and I was faster than him anyway, I just followed it for a while. Then at some point he got tired and handed me the book. “Start from the beginning if you want to.”

I finished the book before he woke up again, borrowed a few Discworld  novels from him after we came back and owned about 20 less than a year later.

Basically it became my big reading obsession for the following years, and I will buy every Pratchett novel on release day as long as he keeps publishing.

Hang on, you might notice that I’ve read a lot, you probably know I like fantasy and scifi. I didn’t write about Tolkien yet. Well, Tolkien. Long story short, I can’t remember at what age I first read the Lord of the Rings, but I must have been just out of my single digits. Then I nearly forgot about it and about 5-7 years later remembered it and got the English green paperback. Satisfied? Not every book nerd started with Tolkien, but yes, it’s been a big thing for me too.

Anyway, in my late teens/early twenties I couldn’t enter a book store without coming back out with an armful of books, apart from that I occasionally asked friends or the local book store for recommendations. Shelf space was becoming an issue, since I was unwilling to throw away books. Ever. I still have some of my earliest, boxed away for pure nostalgia.

That kind of became a dampener for my reading of new things. Money never was much of an issue, books probably were my biggest expense until I moved out of my parents’ house and that wasn’t that long ago. Shelf space, though…

Enter eBooks. I have long been reluctant to get an eBook reader. I felt weird for paying money for something that was “only” the infrastructure for content. I feel weird when I remember myself thinking that. But at some point a positive review from a friend and christmas changed that. I jumped over my shadow and told my parents when the inevitable and dreaded question about what I wanted for Christmas arose again: “A Kindle would be good.”

I got one and right now I wonder why I didn’t do it earlier. I’ve had it for two years now, and while I will always order or buy paper books, my eBook reader has become indispensible.

Hesitating to buy a book unless I felt it was too expensive for now ((even though I can afford it, I won’t pay any price)) is a thing of the past. I don’t mind the prices, because I pay for the content, not for the medium. And my sporadic contact to writers on twitter, their blogs and other sources made me a little more sensitive to how book prices are made up ((not talking about the German fixed price thing)) and how creatures actually do depend on that money or the sales figures, so I won’t ever bitch about the price difference between eBooks and paper books again.

While paper books are a pretty thing I actually get more value from eBooks. Sure, there’s some disadvantage,s and they might be tied to my account at a company, etc.

But my reading habits don’t leave me with much of a choice. Before ebooks, when travelling I usually took a big book with me. And was stuck with it. I had to be careful so I wouldn’t read it all on the flight to my destination or even lose interest in it. And I’d have to lug something like Tad Williams’ “Otherworld” or one of the hard fantasy political intrigue gorefests of G.R.R. Martin with me for a 10.000 mile round trip, just to buy a massive paperback at the airport so I’d have something to read for the flight back home.

This is where I love my Kindle most, aside from not breaking my wrist when reading a 900 page cold war thriller in bed. I took it with me on a trip to the South Pacific, had two dozen books on it, some new, some old, got a pre-ordered one while on the free wi-fi at Auckland Airport and it all weighs less than a regular paperback novel. I just stuff it in my backpack along with a charger and I have a whole archive to choose from. Things can’t get better for someone who reads up to 200 pages an hour.

My book collection keeps growing, due to following and occasionally interacting with writers on twitter, and probably the biggest money drain in that directon, following John Scalzi’s (he writes awesome sci-fi, too)) blog at http://whatever.scalzi.com . He regularly posts the “Big Idea” guest blogs, where writers can post about their new books, specifically the big ideas behind them.

He got me hooked on Myke Cole and Seanan McGuire, to name just two, and the most recent post is about “The Martian” by Andy Weir, a really gripping story about a man stranded on Mars after his mission went belly-up.

Side note: read this post. Get the book.


I’ve sort of followed Andy Weir from his earlier web comic days to his creative writing forays and am thrilled that he finally gets the recognition he deserves, and he is a really nice fellow, too. (Hi Andy, should you ever read this!)

Ok. Books. My one true love.

I’ve you’ve read this far, congratulations. And thank you for bearing with me, for looking into my past and into my soul.

I guess if you did, you are a reader anyway. If you have the chance to influence kids, encourage them to read. It is the greatest gift you can give. Don’t force them though.

Myke Cole (who wrote the awesome Shadow Ops Trilogy, the final novel just having been published in January)  is leading with an example I cannot label any different than awesome. He has an ongoing deal with his niece that he will buy her any book she wants. As simple as that. I will try to follow in his footsteps in that regard, hoping to be the godfather or uncle of a child soon enough, so I can maybe pass my love for books along.

Good night, I’m going to go read something now.