E-Reading in Germany

E-book leaning against a stack of paper books

E-Reading in Germany

As the birthplace of the printed book in Europe, it may be no surprise that Germans have been slow to take to e-reading. But today 21 percent of Germans are e-reading, and the market is growing faster than ever. Everything you need to know about e-reading in Germany.
by Nicolette Stewart

Will digital reading technology revolutionize reading as Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable type printing press did in 1450?  A study of e-book reading in Germany done by Price Waterhouse Coopers in order to find out more about digital reading trends was hopefully titled “E-Books in Germany—The Beginning of a new Gutenberg Era?”  And as more and more readers choose e-reading over traditional books and journalists predict that paper books will be off of the market in 20 years, “Gutenberg Era” sounds like a more and more accurate description of this century’s reading habits.

Whatever the future holds for reading technology, we’ve gathered a list of tips and tricks for e-readers living in Germany today.  Ever wondered why German e-books are so expensive, where you can purchase e-books, or whether German libraries lend their members digital copies?  Young Germany has answers for you below.

The advantages of e-reading

Chances are, if you’ve read this far, you’re already a convert.  But on the small chance that you have yet to try digital reading, consider this: When learning a foreign language, reading in your target language can help you acquire vocabulary and understand grammar.  E-books make this even easier with one function: the dictionary.  Ploughing through a book in a foreign language can be slow going, but if looking up a word in the text is as easy as a tap on the screen, you can save on time and frustration—something that might make the difference between a successfully finished book and a book you gave up on in frustration.

If you’re moving to Germany from overseas to study, travel, or work, you probably don’t have room in your suitcase to bring all your favorite books, let alone all the books in your native language that you might want to read but won't have access to abroad.  E-reading can make this part of moving to a new country easier—and considerably lighter.

E-book pricing

The price of e-books in Germany is notably higher than in many other countries.  This is due to two factors: something called the Buchpreisbindung and tax regulations.

The Buchpreisbindung is a German law stipulating that the price of books remain fixed once set by the publisher.  This means no discounts, no price slashing, and no bargain books.  The purpose of the law is idealistic and is meant to exclude book sellers from the competition that might otherwise lead them to compromise quality for market compatibility.

According to Lehmanns Media, a German bookseller, “Books are not shoes, cooking pots, or car parts.  They, in their entirety, mirror society and archive the soul and knowledge of an era.  Without the written and printed word there would be no progress, and scientific discoveries would remain fleeting.” In keeping the price of bestsellers from being pushed down through mass production, the law ensures that publishers can earn enough money with their successes to continue to publish works that receive less attention.

As the Buchpreisbindung also applies to e-books, their prices often mirror that of printed books exactly, though they can be between 10 and 30 percent cheaper.

The second factor keeping the price of e-books higher in Germany than in, for example, the United States, is the Mehrwertsteuer, or German sales tax.  While printed books are only taxed 7 percent Mehrwertsteuer, e-books are taxed at the full 19 percent.

One way around e-book prices in Germany is to purchase your e-books in your home country or over a website like amazon.uk or amazon.com, both of which you can use from anywhere if you attach a credit card from that country to your account.  Otherwise remember that your book budget in Germany will remain the same whether you read on a screen on paper.

Where to get e-books in Germany: Buying and borrowing

There are a lot of options for purchasing e-books in Germany—even many independent bookstores offer an e-book store online.  The largest e-book sellers in Germany right now are ebook.de, amazon.de, and Hugendubel.  But there are just as many places to find e-texts without spending any money at all.

The first and largest of these is Project Gutenberg, an online catalogue of over 42,000 free e-books.  The copyrights on these books have expired, making them public domain.  Project Gutenberg digitalizes them and makes them available to the public.  However, there is one catch: these are books whose copyrights have expired in the United States, and they may not be free of copyright in other countries, so do your homework before downloading books in Germany.

Many other websites—including the big book sellers—offer free e-books.  To see a recent list of over 30 of these websites, visit allesebook.de.

Libraries in Germany have also been keeping up with e-reading technology and over 600 participate in onleihe.net, an online library lending tool that allows library members to borrow digital material through their website.  Their archives contain 120,000 e-books and audio e-books, videos, magazines, and newspapers.  To find out if your local library participates, click here.

Do you e-read?  Jump over to the Young Germany facebook page and join in the conversation.

by Nicolette Stewart