Why Are French Bookstores Still Thriving?

In America, the decline of the neighborhood bookstore is old news. In far too many cases, the competition posed by Amazon and e-books has been strong enough to drive even established bookstores out of business. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and in some European nations such as France and Germany, it isn’t.

Fixed pricing

France boasts an impressive 2,500 bookstores, and much of the country’s literary success has to do with a 1981 fixed pricing law that forbids retailers–even Amazon–to sell books in France at a discount more than 5% of the publisher’s list price. Fixed pricing also applies to e-books, allowing publishers almost total control over the price tags of their books in all formats.

Despite what many people think, publishers do not significantly mark up the price of their books. Publishing is not a huge money-making business. For the most part, book prices are a fair representation of how much it costs to produce a book, from paying the editors to the marketing budget to the production of the book.

In contrast to France’s fixed pricing model, the United States promotes only traditional wholesale and agency bookselling models. Both models allow retailers to set their own prices for books, which often means that they are significantly discounted from the publisher’s list price. Amazon often sells books so cheaply that they actually lose money… but then make it up in Kindle sales or increased sales of other products.

Literary Culture

There’s another factor that gives France an advantage when it comes to maintaining its bookstores: a respect for literary culture. Bernard Fixot, owner of a small French publisher, said, “There are two things you don’t throw out in France — bread and books” (NYT).

French consumers are also more committed to the printed book than Americas. Only 1.8 percent of the general publishing market in France is e-books, while in the US it is 6.4 percent. More physical books sold equals more revenue for physical bookstores.

Looking to France

American lovers of literature would do well to look to France as a country to emulate in the Amazon vs. physical bookstores battle. There is clearly room for both sides to exist, as long as the prices are fair and everyone keeps the most important thing — the book — in mind.

Related Stories:

DOJ Says Apple & Publishers Colluded About E-book Prices

Young Writers and Self-Publishing: Positive or Harmful?

Major Bookseller Bids Adieu to Digital Copyright Protection

Luc Legay


janet T.
janet t5 years ago

Or perhaps it is that they do not do what our stores do, buy each other out to lower the competition. I and a lot of other people sew but we now only have one fabric store. It bought out and drove out the other by having good fabrics for sale and then when they got rid of everybody else they completely changed their stock to cruddy fabric from china, and we are forced to buy it. In France they have better manners.

Luvenia V.
Luvenia V5 years ago

Berny P., yes the French get help from their taxes, shoot them all, lol. Did you get a vote on the $0.53 out of every tax dollar you pay going to war and death??? If you did I guess I was asleep during those elections.

If you stop waving that flag around long enough to learn the truth you would not be putting other countries down.


Lewis Black on how America is not number one. Adult language

Patrick King
Patrick King5 years ago

Maybe they have larger apartments in France, too, that can house private libraries. The e-book is the greatest boon to book lovers since the printing press. I can get the book I need in minutes if I don't own it. I can carry an entire library in a tablet that weighs much less than 1 paperback book. I have it with me always and I can get to any book I want at any time. I can read it in the dark with no additional light. E-books should be cheaper as they require no binding or paper, and publishers should take that into account. I admit, however, that binding a paper are only the media. When I buy a book it is for the ideas it contains, not, in most cases, for the physical substance of it.

Berny P.
Berny p5 years ago

French bookshops do so well because of an entire series of government-assistance and bailout-like policies, as the original article laid out. It goes FAR beyond fixed pricing.


Tiffany B.
Tiffany B5 years ago

I think fixed pricing might reduce the amount people read

Tiffany K.
Tiffany K5 years ago

*picking up a new book. Ever.

Tiffany K.
Tiffany K5 years ago

Wow, way to edit a story. Is a little honest reporting too much to ask for? You took the parts of the original story that you liked, and left out all those pesky details that might make your idea less likely to sell. French bookshops do so well because of an entire series of government-assistance and bailout-like policies, as the original article laid out. It goes FAR beyond fixed pricing. But, you knew that wouldn't sell so well in this country, didn't you?

If people want to support local bookstores, go buy from them. Don't buy from Amazon and the like for the low prices then whine about local bookshops dying out, like half of you probably do. And, for God's sake, don't be ignorant enough to pretend price fixing would change anything here, when that alone isn't even enough to change things in France. People wouldn't go out and buy the same number of books at full price. They'd buy less, or buy used from each other more than they do already. Hell, they'd import the British or Canadian edition of the book if it was cheaper. You all know that. Stop fooling yourselves. This isn't like France, where if you want a book in your native language your options are a bit limited. There are LOTS of sources for English-language books. You're comparing apples to oranges. Our culture isn't the same as theirs. But, hey, if you want to discourage reading more than it already is, go ahead with promoting dumb ideas like this. Then, nobody who isn't absolutely dedicated will even bother picki

Tiffany K.
Tiffany K5 years ago

Why does this article leave out whole segments of the original story it was taken from? Come on now, try some honesty in publishing. You left out all the aspects about the government support of the FRENCH bookstore industry (English language bookstores and such are on their own), the loans, reduced rents, and so on. It's easy to make it SOUND good when you leave out all the aspects that make it very much equivalent to the auto and bank bailouts, isn't it?

Elizabeth L.
Elizabeth L5 years ago

Doesn't Amazon sell books? No-one forces people to buy their books on-line. If you want to keep your local bookseller then shop there.

Ian Fletcher
Ian Fletcher5 years ago

Bonne nouvelle ça! Bien fait les bouquineurs...