Mitterrand slams EC raids on publishers as as 'out of proportion'

Mitterrand slams EC raids on publishers as as 'out of proportion'

French culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand has said that he would not intervene in the dispute between publishers and authors over electronic rights for the moment. Mitterrand also hit out at the recent European Commission raids into French publishers, which he described as "out of proportion".

During the opening of the four-day Paris Book Fair, he said he would leave the two sides to continue negotiations, because "they are used to working together". Asked whether he would intercede if a parliamentary bill to permit publishers to set electronic book prices gave no guarantees on authors’ pay, he told The Bookseller that his decision would not be linked to the legislative process. The bill is due for a second reading in the Senate on 29th March.

The Permanent Council of Writers (CPE) broke off talks over the rights issue this week as they were in deadlock over several major issues. Antoine Gallimard, president of the French Publishers Association (Syndicat National de l’Edition, SNE), said that "there is real progress" and that the publishers want to pursue talks, but writers union Société des Gens de Lettres (SGDL) president Jean-Claude Bologne rules that out for the time being.

The recent raids on five French publishers and the SNE by about 100 European Commission competition officials between March 1st and 7th were "out of proportion" to the budding market, Mitterrand said during a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the fixed book price Lang Law. They were "a manifestation of hostility without precedent".

Mitterrand rejected the idea that "large digital supermarkets, without concern for editorial diversity or pay for creation, should be the only face of the cultural internal market" in Europe. A total of 15 countries have fixed price rules for physical books, and Germany and Spain also have them for electronic versions. The raids involved only France, and coincided with the e-book price bill’s passage through parliament, Gallimard noted. "There is no cartel," he added. "There is real competition between us." Moreover, the e-book market in France "is not even emerging" yet. Only 40,000 titles are available so far and sales represented only 1.5% of the total for books last year, most of them legal, scientific or medical. For fiction, the share was 0.5%.

The latest poll carried out by Ipsos for Livres Hebdo reveals that 8%  of French people have read one e-book, compared to 5% in September 2009. Sixty-one percent have heard of e-books, but only 16% said they were interested in using them and 65% said print books would remain on top. The survey was conducted among 3,032 people between 21st January and 7th February.

The SNE will publish its 2010 sales in June, but distributors’ figures indicate that the market was growing at an annual rate of 2% to 3% last year until the final weeks, when a cold snap almost wiped out the gains. Sales recovered in January, and show "weak, but regular growth," the SNE said.