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  • P-ISSN 1738-656X
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한국개발연구. Vol. 13, No. 2, August 1991, pp. 141-175

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Returns and Resale Price Maintenance in Book Distribution (Written in Korean)


Author & Article History

Manuscript .


Resale price maintenance has long been employed in book distribution, perhaps longer than for any other product. Another unusual practice in the book trade that has proven to be quite durable in spite of its substantial cost in real resources is the returns policy. Publishers typically grant the right to return unsold books within a stipulated time for full credit against future orders. This paper investigates the functions and effects of resale price maintenance in the book trade, and argues that resale price maintenance and returns are substitute methods of providing the same economic function. Resale price maintenance can be used to compensate booksellers for initially stocking books with uncertain prospects and for providing a conduit through which manufacturers acquire information about consumer demand (market testing services). Permitting the return of unsold books for full credit places a floor under retail prices and transfers a considerable portion of the cost of introducing a new product line back to the publisher. Both reflect publishers' needs to have their books displayed. In the U.S. returns privileges were first proposed in 1913, roughly coincident with the Macy decision outlawing RPM. Publishers slowly granted return privileges, which become nearly universal by 1970. The decline in margins in recent years has been accompanied by an increase in returns as the return policy served to substitute for lost margins on successful titles as a methods of compensating full-line booksellers. In contrast, returns privileges are unusual in countries where price maintenance in books has been practiced. These observations are consistent with our analysis. In Korea, resale price maintenance of books is practiced under an exception to Korean antitrust law. The availability of effective price maintenance is likely to reduce the use of returns programs. Since consumers prefer to obtain books at outlets where they know the books are likely to be stocked rather than taking a chance on stores that carry a more limited line, it also provides a strong incentive for booksellers to expand. But the privilege of resale price maintenance should be confined to books which publishers want to be price maintained. Resale price maintenance and returns system differ in the transactions costs associated with inventory holding, and publishers' judgement on the comparative advantage of the two schemes should be honored. Publishers should also remain free to authorize sales at discount at any time not to impair the ability of booksellers to dispose of product variants that prove unpopular.

JEL Code

L49, L91

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