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Why are books so expensive in Spain?

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?

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

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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PROPERTY

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Despite being known for its year-long sunny weather, Spain is the EU country with the fewest homes with natural light, often intentionally. Why is it that when it comes to spending time at home, Spaniards seem to love being in the dark?

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Spain – the land of sunshine. The country gets between 2,500 and 3,000 hours of sun per year on average, almost double the 1,600 hours the UK gets, for example.

You’d probably assume that finding a bright apartment in such a sunny country would be a piece of cake, but unless you’re renting or buying a modern home, it might be trickier than you realise.

More than one in ten Spaniards live in dwellings they feel are “too dark” – the highest percentage among all EU countries, according to figures from Eurostat.

As far as dark homes go, Spain is head and shoulders above the EU average of 5.9 percent, and higher than other nations with a high rate of gloomy homes such as France (9.5 percent), Malta (9.4 percent) and Hungary (7.7 percent).

At the other end of the brightly lit spectrum, it’s no surprise to see that countries with cloudier skies and darker winters such as Norway, Slovakia, Estonia, Czechia and the Netherlands have homes that let in plenty of natural light, and yet Spain’s sun-kissed Mediterranean neighbours Italy and Cyprus do make the most of the readily available light.

Dark homes are almost twice as common in Spain as the EU average. Graph: Eurostat.

So why are Spanish homes so dark?

Is it a case of hiding away from the sun, and keeping cool during the summer months? Or is it something else? 

Apartment blocks

The vast majority of Spaniards live in apartments as opposed to houses, often in tightly-packed cities with narrow streets.

In fact, in Spain 64.6 percent of the population lives in flats or apartments, second in the EU after Latvia (65.9 percent.)

By contrast the EU wide average is 46.1 percent.

By nature of apartment living, Spanish homes tend to get less sunlight.

Depending on whether they have an exterior or interior flat, they might not actually have a single window in the flat that faces the street.

If the apartment is on a lower floor, the chances of it receiving natural light are even lower. Internal patios can help to solve this to some extent, but only during the mid day and early afternoon hours. 

why are spanish homes so dark

A dark, narrow street in the centre of Palma de Mallorca. Photo: seth0s/Pixabay

Hot summers

During Spain’s scorching summer months, there’s no greater relief than stepping into a darkened apartment building lobby and feeling the temperature drop. 

In southern Spain, and in coastal regions, Spanish buildings were traditionally built to protect against the heat and hide away from the long sunny hours. White walled exteriors and dark interiors help to keep homes cool.

It’s often the case that bedrooms are put in the darkest, coolest part of the apartment, sometimes with just a box-window to allow for a breeze but no sunlight.

Spaniards’ obsession with blinds and shutters

Spain is pretty much the only country in Europe whose inhabitants still use blinds (persianas), even during the colder winter months.

In this case, rather than it just being down to keeping homes cool during the sweltering summer months, their usage is intrinsic to Spain’s Moorish past and the fact that they provide a degree of privacy from nosy neighbours. By contrast, northern Europeans with Calvinist roots such as the Dutch keep the curtains open to let in natural light and because historically speaking, keeping the inside of homes visible from the street represents not having anything to hide. But in Spain, the intimacy of one’s home is sacrosanct, especially when the neighbour in the apartment building opposite is less then ten metres away.

Keeping the blinds or shutters down also has the advantage of making it easier to have an afternoon nap (the siesta, of course) or to sleep in late after a long night out on the town. 

In any case, it seems hard to believe for some foreigners that many Spaniards are happy to live in the dark whilst spending time at home, regardless of whether they’re sleeping or not. 

A byproduct of this? Dark, gloomy homes.

why are spanish homes so dark

Spaniards aren’t fans of airing their dirty laundry, at least metaphorically speaking. Blinds have historically provided the privacy they’ve wanted from their homes. Photo: Quino Al/Unsplash

The long, dark corridors

Spanish apartments have plenty of quirks that seem odd to outsiders, from the light switches being outside of the room, the aforementioned shutters, the bottles of butane and last but not least, the never-ending corridors. 

Most Spanish homes built in the 19th and 20th century include these long pasillos running from the entrance to the end of the flat. They were meant to provide a separation between the main living spaces and the service rooms (kitchen, bathroom etc), easy access to all and better airing and light capabilities. But when the doors to the rooms are closed as often happens, these corridors become the opposite of what was intended: dark and airless.

Navigating these windowless corridors at night is akin to waking around blindfolded.

dark corridor spain

Light at the end of the tunnel? Dark corridors are a common feature of Spanish homes. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Are Spaniards rethinking their dark homes?

Times are changing, and modern designs are experimenting with more spacious, light-filled, open-plan apartments, especially as the Covid-19 lockdown forced many Spaniards to reconsider their abodes. 

It’s also increasingly common to see property ads stressing that the property is diáfano, which means that natural light enters the home from all sides.

However, the vast majority of Spanish homes are still gloomy for the most part, often intentionally.

A combination of traditional building styles, the crowded nature of apartment block living, the use of shutters, the desire to keep homes private, and the long windowless corridors mean Spanish flats can seem dark if you’re new to the country, and with good reason.

Ultimately, it is worth remembering that Spanish society is one that largely lives its life outdoors. Living in smaller apartments, Spaniards generally spend less time at home and more time out and about in the street.

Native to a hot and sunny country as they are, Spaniards’ homes are a place of rest, relaxation and, crucially, sleep.

Spanish people have enough sunlight and heat in their lives; they like to live, therefore, in homes designed to keep cool and dark.

READ ALSO: Why are Spanish homes so cold?

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