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French loot … and musings on the Net Book Agreement

Posted on Jun 4, 2011

I have just spent a few days back home and no trip is complete without a tour of the local bookshops!
Here is my treasure:

I could not resist the wonderful Un Livre by Hervé Tullet (published by Chronicle Books here under the title Press Here), the latest volume of my favourite manga series and the wonderfully entitled Le livre qui fait aimer les livres même à ceux qui n’aiment pas lire (“The book which will make you love books even if you don’t like to read”). Someone snaps this one quick so it can be published here, please!

I wish I could buy more, much more. But books are so expensive in France. There is nearly 50 euros worth of books in the picture. You see, France still has the equivalent of the Net Book Agreement, le prix unique du livre (or Law “Lang”, named after the minister who reintroduced it in 1981), and it is fiercely protected. Every time I walk through soulless high street chain bookshops in this country, I curse the lack of Net Book Agreement which allows for mass discounting and prevents independent bookshops from surviving, let alone thriving. When I go back home, I relish the time I get to spend in bookshops, and so do my children. Supermarkets, chain bookshops and independent bookshops don’t compete – they just offer different things. So the supermarkets will sell books by mass market publishers (often still very good quality, I have to say) and independent bookshops will focus on smaller or less mainstream publishers.  It works well, really well. But the bottom line is, if I lived in France, I couldn’t afford to buy my children many books. Well, certainly not as many as they get here. Maybe we’d use the library more. Maybe, if we still had a Net Book Agreement in the UK we wouldn’t be witnessing library closures. I don’t know. I just can’t make up my mind what is right and what is wrong. Does having books in the supermarkets here at cut-price mean that people read more? I am not sure. All I know is that one of my favourite French children’s books of the last few years (Miss Charity by Marie-Aude Murail) cost nearly 25 euros and I can’t imagine many people would be willing to be that price for a book (even though it is over 600 pages long!).

So who is right and who is wrong? Or is just not that simple? I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this!

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