French plans for helping bookshops revealed

French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti has unveiled part of the government’s plan to shore up independent booksellers, despite earlier fears that she would be unable to commit any money because of France’s huge budget deficit.

She announced that a fund of €5m would be created for loans to booksellers with cashflow problems and that the budget of ADELC, the association that subsidises booksellers, would rise from €4m to €7m to help outlets when they change hands. A general fund for booksellers and other measures "need further reflection", but should be announced by the summer, she said.

Filippetti added that an independent book industry mediator would be appointed to settle disputes as an alternative to avoid costly litigation, and that ministry officials would identify infringements to the 1981 Lang Law on fixed print book prices and the 2011 law that did the same for e-books.

The government wants to ensure that France "never suffers the same fate as the United States" with "the collapse of several [bookshop] chains" and the ensuing difficulties for publishers and creation, Filippetti said.

Matthieu de Montchalin, president of the French Booksellers Association (Syndicat de la Librairie Française, SLF), welcomed Filippetti’s announcements. "In the last ten years, I have never seen a [culture] minister propose so many concrete measures." He was particularly enthusiastic about officials going after infringements of the law at a national level. This task "is extremely difficult for us". De Monthalin said a mediator, which has been on successive governments’ minds for years, would be valuable to resolve problems such as applying the Lang Law to secondhand books.

However, publishers do not think a mediator is necessary, according to Hervé de La Martinière, chief executive of La Martinière group. "No-one [among French publishers] is in favour, but no-one dares says so," he told The Bookseller. "We can solve problems among ourselves."

Xavier Moni, co-founder of the Comme un Roman bookshop in central Paris and of the association Paris Librairies, a network of about 60 outlets that was officially launched last week, gave Filippeti’s measures a cautious welcome. "We need to wait and see what happens next," he said.

Paris Librairies' portal contains 1.5m titles, and directs customers to the nearest store carrying the book they seek. Moni expects membership to reach 80 by June and could form the basis for nationwide coverage following the demise of the 1001libraires.com portal, which collapsed last year because it was too ambitious and underfunded.

Paris Librairies, which has already been contacted by several other regional networks interested in its model, has received €100,000 in central and local government subsidies and annual subscriptions of €100 per member.

The next important date for the trade is the forthcoming annual booksellers conference, to be held in Bordeaux on 2nd-3rd June.