Despite challenges, French booksellers mark one of the best year in sales

EIBF co-President Jean-Luc Treutenaere and EIBF Board members Anne Martelle and Nina Stavisky explore the opportunities and challenges on the French bookselling market in 2021 

Last year has been a very good year for booksellers in France. After a very turbulent 2020, with businesses being impacted by lockdowns and various restrictions, many bookshop customers returned to stores. The market figures show an increase in sales of roughly 20%, which is probably the best ever! 

However, the results are not only a matter of chance or opportunity, but they highlight the hard work of the whole book chain. During this period, booksellers invested in scaling up their digital services – for example, in the past two years, we have seen a rise of 1500% in online sales for independent booksellers – , as well as setting up click and collect units and providing diverse operations to engage their customers. 

  • Despite the pandemic, bookshops remain open

On the pandemic side, all bookshops remained open across the country, and freely accessible. Customers have to wear a mask, keep safe distances and use hand sanitiser during their visits. Booksellers strive to ensure an important level of protection for both their customers and their employees. On the other hand, a vaccine pass is compulsory to visit libraries, restaurants and movie theatres.

  • France introduces new shipping law

One of the major political highlights for independent booksellers in France in 2021, was the adoption of the law introducing a minimum shipping fee for selling books. So-called ‘Darcos Law’, deriving its name from the Senator Laure Darcos, will help even the playing field for all booksellers. The shipping costs are yet to be defined, but they are predicted to be in the range of two to five euros. This should be confirmed in early 2022, with the law expected to enter into practice at the end of this year. 

  • Launch of the culture pass

In 2021, France also launched the culture pass for all 18 year olds, which allows them to spend up to 300 € on theatres, movies, music, and books! It was a big success, resulting in an important rise of sales of comics and mangas. The pass has now been extended to younger people, with a smaller sum.

  • European focus

The Digital Markets Act remains at the forefront of discussions, especially around the interoperability of files and devices used to read digital books. Ongoing is also the debate on fees imposed by Google and Apple for in-store app purchases. 

  • Future challenges

New year also bring new challenges, with many opportunities ahead for French booksellers, including: 

     •    The rise of digital and audio books, on which traditional booksellers have poor, or no, offer and market share
     •    The access to large libraries through subscription (Kobo, Amazon Unlimited, Youboox, Youscribe, etc)
     •    The purchase of Hachette (first French publisher and sixth on the planet) by Vivendi (Editis, second publisher in France). This could lead to a ‘mega publishing and distribution house’, weighting between 40 and 60% of some bookstores or chains’ revenues 
     •    The technical and accounting challenges of implementing dematerialised invoicing in all French companies, which will bring about profound changes in the way we manage our businesses

Still, we are very confident for the year ahead, ready to welcome our customers and help them discover the treasures in our inventories.

This article has been written by EIBF co-President Jean-Luc Treutenaere and EIBF Board members Anne Martelle, President of the Syndicat de la librairie française, and Nina Stavisky, Executive Director of ALIRE.