April 1, 2013

France unveils a dramatic new plan to bolster booksellers


Why would anyone want to preserve something like this?

Gather round, bookmongers, and let me tell you of the promised land. ‘Cross heaving seas and treacherous shoals there lies a land of plenty, a fruitful land, where books may be bought and sold in person, where co-op checks fall like manna from cloudless skies and a joyous singing bookmonger need not choose between buying her daily ration of ramen water or paying rent on her under-cot in a sublet patch of windowless hallway-cum-apartment. No, sweet bookseller, in this far land people remember the worth of literature, and even if they don’t actually read the books (because come on, be reasonable, that doesn’t happen anywhere) they long to support it. France! France! Where the flaps are plenty, where the fries are more so.

France unveiled the first in a slate of powerful efforts to support that nation’s booksellers this week. As reported in The Bookseller, Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti is working to preserve France’s many independent bookstores with insistent language and even more insistent cash.

She announced that a fund of €5m would be created for loans to booksellers with cashflow problems and that the budget of ADELC, the association that subsidises booksellers, would rise from €4m to €7m to help outlets when they change hands. A general fund for booksellers and other measures “need further reflection”, but should be announced by the summer, she said.

This follows on the last spring’s continuation of a reduced VAT rate for books in France, from 7% to 5.5%.

France is, of course, a nation defined by obsession with national character—it’s a tone almost as unavoidable as and predictably in opposition to the United States’ own patriotic stage rhetoric. It’s unsurprising then, that the U.S. bookstore landscape serves as an object lesson for the French efforts. Again from The Bookseller:  “The government wants to ensure that France ‘never suffers the same fate as the United States’ with ‘the collapse of several [bookshop] chains’ and the ensuing difficulties for publishers and creation, Filippetti said.”

Among the most significant proposals by Filipetti, however, is the appointment of an “independent book industry mediator” to enforce laws, particularly France’s famous Lang Law, at the national level. This would set the stage for more direct attacks on Amazon, which is one reason why booksellers discussing the news love this proposal in particular.

Imagine if there were a similar position in the U.S. Of course, it would be a toothless, embarrassing figurehead role. But if we’re indulging in fancy, imagine that the position held real power. How hilarious would it be to see our own Book Industry Czar stride on stage and tear into Eric Holder and that nefarious bald gent holding his strings? Imagine her marching through Seattle at the head of a phalanx of lawyers. Imagine Bezos sulking in his rocket booster dredging houseboat, waiting for her call.

If anyone needs me in the next few weeks, I’ll be France-bound on a raft made of ARCs.



Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.