French Bookshops

French Books

Here’s one way of preventing Amazon’s hegemony over book sales: in France, book prices are fixed by law so they cost the same amount whether you buy them online, in a chain shop like Fnac or in a small independent bookshop.  When I was living in Paris during my year abroad, the stingy student side of me was a bit miffed that it was impossible to get new books at a discount.  On the other hand, it means that there are still a lot of independent bookshops which are managing to stay open (about 400 in Paris) and that can only be a good thing.

The Saint-Germain district in Paris is a book-lover’s dream.   I mostly bought second-hand books at Gibert Joseph and the flea markets in Saint-Ouen but I did treat myself to a complete edition of Persepolis by Marjane Sartori which I bought in a beautiful shop called La Hune on the boulevard Saint-Germain (although I believe it has now moved to a different address nearby).  Like every other English-speaking tourist, I made a pilgrimage visit (or six) to Shakespeare and Company but I actually preferred Village Voice which was much less touristy.  Unfortunately, it was so quiet that it was forced to close down earlier this year as English-language bookshops in France don’t benefit from state subsidies.  The WHSmith on rue de Rivoli is hilarious – as well as English-language books and magazines, it also stocks typical culinary delicacies such as shortbread, Marmite and tins of Heinz baked beans!

The French have yet to embrace eBooks.  On one hand, this doesn’t surprise me at all given the pricing laws, the slow introduction of e-readers into the French market and the strong cultural attachment to the printed page.  On the other hand, the French also secretly love things that they claim to hate (like fast food and Starbucks) so maybe eBooks will gain popularity after a few years of resistance.


Filed under Books

7 responses to “French Bookshops

  1. Yes I totally agree. The only place you can a cheaper book is on Amazon or The Book Depository. Bookshops in France are survivng I would say. Only certain kinds of people spend money on books at the moment. The economic crisis is crushing everyone here. Another funny thing I can add is that when invited to French home one doesn’t see as many bookshelves as one would imagine. I’ve been living here for 22 years and I still don’t get that. There’s another cool bookshop I like to go to in Paris for used books called the San Francisco Book Store in the 6th arrondisement. Nice shop with an incredible literary fiction section. 🙂 And no the it will probably take the French 30 years to consider ebooks. Everything new takes at least that time before they will consider it. It’s so slow here sometimes.


  2. This also happens in Spain but still, we use the Book Depository or even because prices here due to an association of “authors” are really REALLY inflated. Take for example the recent Fifty Shades of Grey (advertised everywhere here too), 3 books set:
    Spanish version: 45 €
    English version: 25 €
    English version sold in Spain: 33 €

    I really, REALLy doubt they are charging costumers 12 € for the translation. Result is, there are less bookshops because not everyone can afford buying books (these are trash but classics are even more expensive) and, if reading in English, everyone buys abroad.


  3. Gallivanta

    Fascinating information. Your reference to Persepolis jumped out at me. Just watched the DVD of Persepolis this week. I tried to find the book in the public library without success.


  4. Great idea, but can’t ever work in the US. Amazon just sued and won about fixed book pricing by publishers here.


  5. Very interesting! Stores in France do not have sales all the time like they do in the United States. People actually pay retail!


  6. It’s the same in Portugal. The book prices are also fixed by law so they cost the same amount whether you buy them online, in a chain shop like Fnac or in a small independent bookshop and it’s also impossible to get new books at a discount. Altough now you can find cheaper books if you buy them in their paperback or e-book editions.


  7. All this is true. Ebooks are rare but I believe they will develop and not in 30 years.
    I’m for the fixed price because it keeps small shops afloat. (And small publishers) And if you don’t have the money, you can buy in second hand shops or borrow books in one of our numerous public libraries. People also lend books to each other. You can often see books passing from one reader to the other in the office or among friends and family. This is why I avoid buying ebooks for books I read in French: I can’t lend them easily.


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