Friday, March 13, 2009

So Why So Many Bookstores?

Casual observation suggests that France has many more bookstores per capita than the US. Yet it seems that 64% of the French classify themselves as "infrequent readers." So who's buying all the books?

9 comments:

MYOS said...

Perhaps "infrequent reader" does not mean the same number of books in France and in the US?
I can at least testify that grandparents must deluge grandkids with books of all kinds, manga and "BD" seem to be selling like hot chocolate on a cold afternoon... and most of their bookstore sell neither drinks nor magazines.

Lesley said...

The other 36%.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Touché!

Tom Holzman said...

The "casual observation" is interesting. I suspect that the US tends to have more in the way of chains of larger bookstores and significant bookstores in malls than France. Thus, it may be that while there are lots more smallish bookstores in France, the per capita sales in each country may not be significantly different.

Anonymous said...

I may be out of date, but doesn't France have much less discounting than the U.S.? Given fixed prices, a small French bookstore can survive more easily on a low volume than a larger U.S. one.

kirkmc said...

I worked, for three years, in a French bookstore in a city of about 50,000 people. 1/3 of our annual turnover was school books: textbooks that people had to pay for in lycée, where they were not provided for free.

I now live in a region when the region pays for them. They might, however, have had to come to an agreement with booksellers in the region for them to provide the books.

Not that, in that city of 50,000 people, which had no FNAC or other chain, there were only two bookstores: the one I worked in was fairly large - some 20,000 books - and a smaller maison de la presse.

kirkmc said...

Oh, and regarding discounting: there is a law that prevents selling books at more than a 5% discount. But "getting by" in a bookstore is very, very difficult. I had originally gotten a job in one because I wanted to open one myself, but, after two years, realized that the return is so poor that it wasn't worth it.

Linca said...

The previous anonymous has it right : the Lang law forbids discounts on books, so supermarkets and bookstore chains such as the Fnac can't kill the smaller bookstores through price competition. Compare with record sellers, which are much, much rarer...

And as Kirkmc points out, bookstores are quite numerous in the centers of large cities, and much, much less so elsewhere. That's probably where those readers are...

kirkmc said...

Just an aside... When the last Harry Potter book came out, we ordered it from Amazon FR, which guaranteed delivery on the day it was released. I asked the mailman, when he brought the package, if he had seen any others (the package was marked Harry Potter on the outside). He said there were dozens of them. This for a book in English, and in a town of 2000 people (though the post office served a few other, smaller towns as well).

So, outside of cities, people do read, they just order online. The Harry Potter thing was a special case, but I know that the mailmen (and women) here deliver plenty of packages from the FNAC and Amazon.