The Chapitre chain of bookshops has filed for bankruptcy with the Paris commercial court.
The court will examine the case on Monday (2nd December), which had been set as the deadline for buyers to submit bids for the 53 of the 57 outlets still up for sale. The Chapitre.com site is not concerned by the latest move.
The chain has lost between €15m and €20m euros since it started trading under the Chapitre banner in 2009, the company said in a statement.
Publishers’ refusal to deliver books for fear they are left with unpaid bills, as occurred with the collapse of Virgin earlier this year, has added to the problems.
Supplies “are absolutely crucial at this time of year,” said Chapitre president Michel Rességuier. But he added that he has received “dozens of expressions of interest” from potential buyers, and that the chain should be able to continue operating while these are followed up.
The French Booksellers Association (Syndicat de la Librairie Française, SLF) blamed Chapitre’s failure on “strategies of excessive rationalization, which are incompatible with the reality of the bookselling profession and expectations of readers.”
Instead, bookshops should offer a wide choice of titles, employ “numerous” qualified staff and organize events to attract customers, the SLF said in a statement.
The French Publishers Association (Syndicat National de l’Edition, SNE) also blamed the Chapitre management for the débâcle. After Virgin, this “is the second time this year that choices ignoring the fundamentals of bookselling have led to catastrophe,” the SNE said in a statement. “Already publishers were worried about the decline of the outlets, some of which had been French bookshop flagships. Misunderstanding of the bookselling profession by the shareholders of the Actissia group, (and) a lack of dialogue between the management and publishers have led to this situation.”
Meanwhile, numerous bookshops and other chains have “shown their dynamism,” the statement added. “All over France independent booksellers are prospering and showing their vitality and durability of a profession that is essential to publishers, authors and editorial diversity.”
Last April, the company announced a plan to close 12 of the 57 outlets and lay off 271 of the 1,200 staff. In October, it dropped the idea in favor of offering all the shops for sale, but has found buyers for only four.
Reacting to the October announcement, Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti said the government was “very concerned about the situation,” and might allocate funds from a plan to boost independent booksellers to Chapitre buyers.
Parent company Actissia, itself a subsidiary of the U.S. investment firm Najafi Companies, is the second largest book retailer in France after the FNAC. Formerly owned by Bertlesmann, it includes the France Loisirs book club as well as Chapitre.com.