Thursday, May 19

Bookstores Thrive As France Moves To Protect Amazon Sellers | France

TOAt her independent bookstore in the small rural town of Puy-en-Velay in southern France, Anne Helman had seen an influx of customers since the coronavirus pandemic who said they would rather buy books in person than online.

“I’ve never sold so many copies of Albert Camus’ The Plague,” he said. “The children wanted fantasy books. Adults wanted novels and classics, particularly stories about viruses and the apocalypse. There has been a new enthusiasm for buying locally and supporting independent bookstores; it looks like something virtuous. “

The French government is taking advantage of this increased support for independent bookstores to continue its war against the dominance of big tech companies. In a blow to Amazon, new legislation in France sets a minimum price for book deliveries, in order to stop what the government calls “distorted competition” against independent bookstores of digital giants that deliver books for as little as $ 0. 01 €. .

French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot pleaded with the nation during a lockdown: “Don’t buy books on online platforms!” Now the French parliament is limiting the market advantages of the online giants, which it hopes could set a precedent for other European countries seeking to protect small bookstores. The minimum delivery fee, which has yet to be decided in negotiations with the state regulator, should take effect next year.

French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot
French culture minister Roselyne Bachelot pleaded with the nation not to buy books online during a lockdown. Photograph: Ludovic Marin / EPA

Passing laws to protect books and the book trade is a rare point of political consensus in France, where the debate has grown increasingly tense in the run-up to next year’s presidential race. Emmanuel Macron has declared reading “a national priority”, extending the opening hours of libraries. The move to force online giants to charge the same for delivery as small bookstores is part of the French notion of “cultural exceptionalism,” which has long sought to protect books and independent booksellers from havoc. free market forces.

In contrast to the UK’s famous three-for-two novel deals, the French state sets book prices and readers pay the same for a new book, whether they buy it online, from a high street giant. or in a small bookstore. The law allows a maximum discount on books of only 5%. It has helped preserve the 3,500 independent bookstores in France, more than triple those in the UK, which account for 12,000 jobs.

But while French law prohibits free book deliveries, Amazon and other big companies that sell online have circumvented this by charging a single penny to ship a book. Independent bookstores, to maintain their narrow margins, have to charge much higher prices at post offices. “Local bookstores usually charge about € 6 [£5] or 7 euros to send a book, so there was a considerable gap, “said Géraldine Bannier, a centrist deputy who introduced the law in the lower house of parliament. “It’s about defending the diversity of places where people can buy their books. It is very important for us “.

More than 20% of the 435 million books sold in France in 2019 were bought online.

The fate of French independent bookstores during the pandemic has greatly influenced the new law. France had three blockades at the national level. During the first two, the bookstores remained closed, despite protests from writers and publishers. But during the second blockade, in November 2020, the government reimbursed shipping fees to small independent booksellers. As a result, small stores kept 70% of their business. “It demonstrated the brake on business postage for local bookstores,” said right-wing senator Laure Darcos, who drafted the law.

At the final close this spring, books were deemed essential items and bookstores remained open, with a historically high number of customers flocking to buy from them. Across France, independent bookstores saw a year-on-year drop in sales of just 3.3% in 2020 despite three months of closures.

Amazon warned that the new legislation that sets delivery prices “will weigh on the purchasing power of consumers” and affect readers in small towns and rural areas. French politicians argued that people buying books online tended to live in large cities and urban areas, while independent bookstores were present in rural areas of France.

Wilfrid Séjeau, owner of the independent bookstore Cypress in Nevers, Burgundy, he said he had shipped around 70 books a day to customers during France’s second shutdown last year, wrapping many as gifts. When he reopened his store, there was a marked increase in customers from the surrounding rural area. “People realized that certain things are precious,” he said of the human bond between a bookseller and a customer. “A person can buy many books on Amazon, but also enjoy browsing small bookstores. People often put a book in their basket on Amazon as soon as they find out so they don’t forget it. Now they tell us: ‘I’ll leave that, I’ll send you a list or a reservation on your site.’ His trade has increased and he has created two jobs since the pandemic in the two independent bookstores he has on the same street, along with a stationery store.

Guillaume Husson of the French booksellers union, Syndicat de la Librairie Française, said the law tried to preserve bookstores as a meeting place in city centers, but also to protect publishers. “Independent bookstores do not sell the same as other outlets, they have more newbie novelists, more challenging publications, which has allowed hundreds of publishers and writers to exist.”

Vincent Chabault, a sociologist at the University of Paris, saw good sales during the pandemic for his book. Praise the store: against amazonization (Praise of the stores: against Amazonization). He said that small independent bookstores, which remained fragile, had become “the symbol of resistance against online platforms and Amazon,” adding: “One thing we have learned from the Covid crisis is that digital capitalism has progressed and there is a need to preserve places and times when we can be together offline and offline. “

Back at the Puy-en-Velay bookstore Le Chat WhyHelman praised the legislation. He had feared for his store’s survival when Covid first arrived, but June 2020 to June 2021 turned out to be his most profitable period in 23 years.

He was concerned that customers had become so used to fast deliveries from online giants that it would be a challenge for them to adjust to a slower pace of ordering books from independent companies. “People are used to ordering something online that shows up in the mailbox two days later. That’s the one thing that will still be difficult to compete with. “

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