(To open my stretch for Paris in July this year I thought I’d take a moment to enthuse about the French in general and what their lofty ideals and protectionist policies for the book industry mean to all those francophile bookworms out there…)
We are only all too aware of the state the world’s financial affairs are in. Most of our parents can safely say they’ve never know times like it and the vast majority of us have suffered at least indirectly from its implications. As a directionless 2009 languages graduate, the job market was tough and uninspiring and I just count my lucky stars that I stumbled into a ‘career’ of some description. As governments, our own none-withstanding, have scrambled to make necessary cuts, most industries have seen themselves at threat. As my own legal profession faces some potentially lethal proposals, it leads me back to muse on the book industry, an easy target that, it seems, has always faced wildly different attitudes from those across the pond. Worried that your local library will soon vanish into thin air? Or perhaps you’re concerned that Waterstones could become a ‘C&A’ style memory in the near future as, alongside the economic downturn, it does fierce battle with the eReaders and the showroomers who, gripped by the unrealistically cheap offers elswhere, peruse the book in person and then do their shopping online…
Since the early 1980s, the French, like many continental European countries, have had their book prices fixed by law. I would never criticise anyone directly of buying their books on the cheap from the major supermarkets or Amazon. The temptation is too great and, before I had a great epiphany not so long ago, I was still a sucker for the £1 book. In France this temptation simply doesn’t exist because, apart from a 5% reduction to shift stock, the price of any given book will not be found any cheaper, even from online retailers. As a result, I don’t think I have ever stepped foot in any French city or town without a decent independent bookshop and the streets of Paris are rife with them. The French Government also have protectionist policies in place where they will buy up property suitable for independent businesses and, on top of that, provide loans for booksellers struggling to get along.
This week, France’s culture minister, Aurélie Filippetti, lambasted Amazon, declaring them the ‘destroyer of bookshops’ and heavily criticising the US company’s aggressive sales approach.
As the recession hits every one of us hard, perhaps it follows that both we and our government must allow such flowery things as principles to fall by the wayside… but where will our bookshops and centres of learning be without them? Like many of you, when I step into a supermarket, I buy free range eggs and, if I can afford it, better cuts of meat. I consider myself to be your ‘average Joe’ with fairly ordinary principals and moral ideas but over the past few months I have really taken pause before I hit the ‘by me now’ button. Amazon and other big retailers like it serve a purpose (i.e. one of convenience and cost-effectiveness) but the power lies in our hands. Like Mme Filippetti, pause before you hit that button. Can you be a more conscientious consumer and buy it elsewhere?
Littérature by Christine Vaufrey via Flickr