A French plan

<p>A year ago, the French Booksellers Association (Syndicat de la Librairie Fran&ccedil;aise) predicted in an interview with The Bookseller that the &quot;whole network&quot; of independent bookshops would collapse within &quot;five to 10 years&quot; if the commercial arrangements with publishers did not better reflect the contribution made by booksellers.</p>
<p>But this tottering network of roughly 2,000 shops might yet be saved by a new government initiative to bolster the sector. The Albanel plan&mdash;named after culture minister Christine Albanel&mdash;promises increased funding for independents and exemption from some business taxes.</p>
<p>The French book trade has long been urging successive governments to complete the job the socialists began in 1981 when the Lang Law on fixed book prices hit the statute books. The ruling prevents retailers selling books at discounts worth more than 5%, protecting indies from excessive price competition.</p>
<p>The outline of the government plan was adopted by the cabinet last month, and was welcomed by both the SLF and the publishers association, the Syndicat National de l&rsquo;Edition. Both applauded the general -direction of the proposals, but both&mdash;naturellment&mdash;called for more.</p>
<p>Concern for independent bookshops led the four-point plan. Albanel explained that the government-financed National Book Centre (Centre National du Livre) would create a quality label for bookshops meeting certain qualitative and quantitative criteria and would double its subsidies for these outlets from next year to about &euro;2.5m (&pound;1.8m) from &euro;1.2m (&pound;850,000). Other measures included support for a collective e-commerce site for independents, a fund to finance shop takeovers when incumbents retire (more and more indies are being bought up by chains, or by Bertelsmann), and exoneration from &quot;professional&quot; tax.</p>
<p>The government also pledged to encourage reading by extending library opening hours, to create an advisory Book Council of 15 members drawn from all links in the book chain, and to accelerate book digitisation.</p>
<p>In addition, Albanel urged publishers to sign agreements allowing the Biblioth&egrave;que Nationale de France (BNF) to add texts under copyright to its Europeana platform&mdash;the French contribution to the European digital library&mdash;in time for a first public trial at the Paris Salon du Livre next March.</p>
<p>Trade sources say the plan could have been worse, but they regret that not all the proposals in earlier government-commissioned reports by Gallimard chairman Antoine Gallimard last September and the culture ministry&rsquo;s report, &quot;Livre 2010&quot;, last June, were adopted. In particular, they are concerned that no action will be taken on easing social security costs for staff, and about rumoured disagreements within ministries over who will benefit from the exoneration of professional tax, which can swallow as much as a third of booksellers&rsquo; net profits.</p>
<p>Whatever transpires from the plan and negotiations between publishers and booksellers, it had better take root fast if the SLF&rsquo;s dire predictions are to be averted and France is to conserve the diversity of books and bookshops that the Lang Law aimed to protect.</p>