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French Publishing Negotiates Between Screen And Printed Page


“There are two things you don’t throw out in France- bread and books,” Bernard Fixot, a French publisher, told the New York Times last week. Indeed, at a time when the e-book is reshaping the publishing world, it seems both the French public and the government remain affectionately committed to the printed page.

Unlike many other countries, France has fixed the price of both electronic and printed books, forbidding international companies like Amazon from discounting their products much below the prices set by publishers. In the same article, the New York Times reports that sales of physical books have actually increased in France 6.5 percent between 2003 and 2011. Such strong sales cannot be attributed solely to government intervention. The French public appear to love their books for more than the information they contain, as beautiful, unique, or, simply sentimental objects.

Still, change is coming to France, as a recent agreement with Google surrounding digital books indicates. Under the new agreement between Google, the French Publishers Association and the Société des Gens de Lettres, the internet giant will continue scanning out-of-print French texts, however, the publishers will have the right to decide what books are made available. It’s a groundbreaking, nearly unique deal, in fact, Google has yet to reach a similar agreement in the United States.

Literature retains a preeminent place among the arts in France. As Fixot observed, "In Germany the most important creative social status is given to the musician. In Italy it’s the painter. Who’s the most important creator in France? It’s the writer." The stakes are high in these debates and we can be sure that authors, publishers, and internet companies will continue to struggle to find a future for books in France, both on the screen and on the shelf.