I came across an article, written by Elaine Sciolino in the New York Times which included a number of facts and figures regarding some of the differences between the publishing industry in America and France. One of the main differences is the Lang Law–a law which addresses the discounting of books, and due to this law, book prices cannot be discounted more than 5% below the publisher’s list price. Another point the article makes is that e-book sales in France are 1.8% of the market compared with 6.4% in America. Apparently 13% of French books were purchased from the internet last year. On another note, an article in the Telegraph says that the number of bookshops in Britain halved in the years 2005-2011 shrinking from 4,000 down to 2,178.
Interesting reading which of course raises the question: is the demise of the independent (or even chain) bookshop (thinking Borders here) inevitable? Amazon often comes out as the villain in these ruminations, and I’m sure that if I owned and operated a bookshop, I’d feel that I was fighting in a price war I couldn’t match. But as a reader there are other considerations.
Before the arrival of the internet, I liked nothing better than to head my car towards a book-friendly town and spend the day browsing through the shelves of a number of used book shops. Santa Monica had the added attraction of the British pubs, of course, and I always came away from these forays with a decent amount of plunder. Some of the titles I bought came from the continually overhauled list of books I wanted, and some titles were a complete, delightful surprise as I stumbled across books on the shelves by pure accident. At the time (pre-internet), I typically read books by favourite authors, books recommended by friends or work colleagues, and the occasional unexpected title excavated at a bookshop. I also picked up names of books from magazines such as The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.
Then came the internet…. I came across more and more obscure titles, books from small publishers, and the trail led deeper and deeper off the beaten path. Then came blogging, my reading community expanded, and now I’m reading recommendations from all over the world, including: Australia, Canada, Britain, France, and the very multi-cultural Caroline. I still love book shops, but they simply cannot stock the vast number of titles available via internet outlets. Here’s an example, I recently visited a used bookshop sure that I’d find at least one title by John O’Hara, but alas no. I ended up buying a book for someone else so that I wouldn’t leave empty-handed.
All this reminds me of the days when video shops were the only way to go for VHS and then DVD rentals. I remember picking over the sad little foreign film section at a local Blockbuster and then learning about Netflix….
It’s not that I don’t want to buy from bookshops. I love bookshops. But they simply cannot offer the inventory of online book sellers. It’s not all about pricing and discounting and cut-throat tactics. It’s also about selection. I recently read a review of a Peter Stamm book on Tony’s Reading List. Fat chance of my local used bookshop having that in stock.