France has seen a record 142 independent bookstores open last year in an “anti-Amazon” movement aimed at stopping e-commerce giants from monopolising the market.
The country’s National Book Centre said that most of 2022’s openings were in rural and coastal areas or in the suburbs, with some attributing the change to Parisians and other city-dwellers flocking to the provinces.
The resurgence of independent book stores in France started with the pandemic, when the attractiveness of the bookseller profession began to increase, according to the centre.
The number of openings has doubled in the past few years, up from 68 in 2019 and 59 in 2020 to 140 new bookshops in 2021. Half of the stores opened since 2017 were in towns with fewer than 15,000 residents, while a quarter were in areas with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.
French people generally consider themselves literary, with 86 per cent of over-15s saying that they had read at least one book in 2021, according to a poll by the National Book Centre.
Olivier Rouard, president of the Libraires Ensemble group, told Les Echos that 2020 saw the start of a growing trend of readers ditching massive e-commerce platforms such as Amazon in favour of independent shops.
“The year 2020 marked a turning point for independent booksellers, they took on another dimension, coming to us rather than buying on Amazon has become a militant act, and it will remain,” he said during an interview in 2021.
“It’s a great profession,” Hélène Pourquié, who opened a bookshop in the Paris region, told The Times as news of the record number emerged. “People want a job where you have contact with other people and with literature.”
The French government proposed new legislation in September to set a minimum delivery fee for online sales to help stores compete with Amazon and other retail giants. The fee would be €3 (£2.65) for orders under €35.
A 2014 French law already prohibits free book deliveries, but Amazon and other vendors such as Fnac have circumvented this by charging a token one cent per delivery. Local book stores typically charge up to €7 for shipping.
Legislation was passed in December 2021 to close the one-cent loophole through a minimum shipping fee, but the law could not take effect until the government decided on the size of that fee.
“This will adapt the book industry to the digital era by restoring an equilibrium between large e-commerce platforms, which offer virtually free delivery for books whatever the order size, and bookstores that cannot match these delivery prices,” the culture and finance ministries said in a joint statement when the legislation was proposed.
The new law, however, has reportedly been opposed by the EU Commission on competition grounds.
The number of independent book stores has also seen a spike in the UK and Ireland, where it hit a 10-year high last year, according to the Booksellers Association (BA), as 1,072 indie shops in the BA membership were recorded by the end of 2022.
Meryl Halls, managing director at the BA, said they were “delighted” to hear of the record number of indie shops as she pointed to how there had been an “astonishing” amount of new booksellers during the pandemic.
Speaking of what may have contributed to the growing trend, Ms Halls said: “Drawn by the cultural relevance of books, reading and bookshops, inspired by the activism on display amongst current booksellers, seeing bookselling as a valid and rewarding career choice.
“We want each and every one of the shops to succeed,” she added.
Additional reporting by agencies