The French bookstore, a model apart

In this spring of 2021, despite the traces of the crisis and concerns on the horizon, French bookstores are buzzing with a festive rumor. If it was a birthday, how many candles would we blow out? “The first regulation of the University of Paris concerning booksellers, which dates from December 8, 1275, specifies the roles and duties of these”, indicates the historian Patricia Sorel in her lively and precise study (1), recalling the dual origin of the profession: “The bookseller receives manuscripts for sale in deposit and seeks buyers among his customers”, while “The stationary adds to this activity that of making or having made copies of old manuscripts or new works, which he then puts into circulation”.

Nearly eight centuries later, with 3,400 independent bookstores, France is one of the countries in the world with the densest network of bookstores, in relation to its population. Germany is its only rival on the podium, while Portugal and Spain, which however have very beautiful bookshops, have seen their networks decline.

An anniversary will be celebrated this year, that of the law on the single book price, known as the Lang law, passed in August 1981, from which the French book sector (publishing, distribution, distribution, sale) draws its strength and specificity. If interprofessional agreements existed elsewhere on the selling price of books, for example from the 18th centurye century in Denmark, France was the first to apply a single price through a legislative regime. It prevents distortions of competition and serves as a bulwark against changes in the sector – thus, the recent advent of online sales.

After a year 2020 when the book has fared well by limiting losses – bookstores have also been classified “essential trade” by a decree published on February 26 in Official newspaper -, the French find their cultural comfort in reading for lack of being able to go to the cinema, to the concert, to the theater. It is therefore an independent bookstore festival with a scent of pride and a certain relief that will be celebrated throughout France on Saturday April 24. (read also The cross Wednesday April 21).

(1) A little history of the French bookstore, La fabrique, 248 p., € 15.

to read also: History of booksellers and bookstores, by Jean-Yves Mollier, Imprimerie nationale, 2021, € 29.90.


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