Sunday, February 13, 2011

The French (Digital) Revolution: My Week in Paris - Part Two

Ah, the wine, the cheese, the croissants, the cognac, the...eBooks??

Sacrebleu! eBooks!!!

Yes, as I mentioned in a previous Blog post, the publishing and bookselling community in France, along with other European countries, is adjusting to the inevitable embrace of eBooks by the masses. But exactly how it will all play out, and at what rate, is still unclear and heavily debated in the cafes of Paris and beyond.

So, how do the French feel about reading digitally so far? Well, reliable sources tell me over the course of 3 months the popular chain store Fnac sold approximately 12,000 of the FnacBook, which is their own eReading device priced at around $270 and meant to fend off Amazon's Kindle. That's a respectable start, but in a country with a population of more than 65 Million they've got a long way to go before changing people's reading habits or their views about eBooks overall.

You see, our group learned a very curious thing during a meeting at Gallimard, one of the top publishers in all of France: The staff explained how independent booksellers currently represent 60% of the overall market, an incredible percentage, and emphasized this by demoing a new online network called 1001 Libraires (a similar concept to Indie Bound in the U.S.). They further explained that although several of these stores are slowly but surely adapting to the idea of selling electronic books, the government doesn't officially recognize eBooks as books at all. That's right, eBooks are not technically considered a legitimate book format. And that's because print books are seen as cultural products while digital books...well, let's just say at the moment...ain't.

This has many in the industry dismayed since it means eBooks are taxed at the higher rate of 19.6%, like movies, music, and clothing, compared to 5.5% for print books. And if things remain status quo it will only continue to make it difficult for publishers and booksellers to win the e-hearts and e-minds of consumers throughout the French Republic simply due to unaffordable pricing.

But here's some good news: Soon there is to be a vote on whether or not this policy should change, and if it does (which I believe it will), a seismic shift in the adoption of e-reading by the French will undoubtedly occur. This, along with the introduction of low-cost eReaders, the expansion of, Google eBooks, and Apple's iBookstore, plus savvy indies that face their digital future head on, will all contribute to making "les livres numériques" easier to purchase and enjoy through a variety of channels. For example, one can envision all the Starbucks throughout Paris eventually selling eBooks, just as they're planning to do in America.

At first I'm sure such a scenario will be of great concern to a number of booksellers but with the regulated pricing protections in place (mentioned in a previous post), my hope is they will choose to rise up to the occasion and take on the competition with the same pride and dedication they've offered customers for years and years.

As for publishers, well some frustration was evident because France is two or three years behind the United States in regards to eBooks. And though I understand the desire for things to happen at a quicker pace, I also see this as an opportune moment to avoid glaring mistakes a number of American counterparts have made, and continue to make, by rushing digital works into the marketplace that should've received more editorial care and attention.

Instead, I believe the French will undoubtedly take the necessary amount of time needed to approach this growing medium with the passion, creativity, and artistry they've always applied to the best of everything that represents France's culture; like the wine, the cheese, the croissants, the cognac, and soon...the eBooks. Oui! eBooks!

Vive la Revolution!!!

P.S. - Here's an article by Publishers Weekly about this cultural exchange.

Merci Beaucoup :-)


  1. Perceptive and instructive post about eBooks in France - But Starbucks selling eBooks in the country of wine & cheese, I'll believe it when I see it!…

  2. Thanks Tnargo, I appreciate your comment - Considering all the people who enter a Starbucks with an iPad, an iPhone, a laptop, or eventually some Droid device, is it really so hard to believe this could happen someday? Best!

  3. Pierre! You're almost French mon ami!