Until the early 1990s, when the asset-inflated bubble era ended, Japanese consumer prices were commonly thought to be substantially higher than those in other developed countries. Thanks to more than two decades of deflation, that's no longer the case, but one sector has remained dear: publishing.

Books, newspapers and magazines are still relatively expensive thanks to the government-imposed resale price maintenance system, generally referred to in its abbreviated form, saihan seido. According to this system, all prices for publications (including CDs) are fixed for as long as they exist in the marketplace. Retailers cannot charge less for an item under any circumstances, no matter how long it remains in stock — no cutouts, no remainders, no bargain sales.

The ostensible purpose of saihan seido is to eliminate competition that could drive out smaller publishers, a situation that would threaten the public's right to information. Regardless of the validity of this theory, it was actually the internet's impact on news distribution, not to mention the growth of media conglomerates, that destroyed smaller publishers and regional newspapers in the U.S., where there is no price maintenance.