The French love their bookstores

Shakespeare and Company — one of Paris' many independent bookstores

One of Paris’ many independent bookstores. Christine Zenino/Flickr.

In the 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan stars as an independent bookseller whose livelihood is threatened by a behemoth bookstore chain owned by Tom Hanks.

Thats was fifteen years ago. Today, book selling is a different game, the pendulum having swung so much to the other side that it’s the few chains left who are fighting for survival against Internet book sellers and e-books.

In France, where bookstores are a common site along Paris streets, things are different than in the U.S., where bookstores are vanishing at a fast clip as the popularity of e-books increases. But in France e-book sales don’t threaten book sales, where less than two percent of book sales are e-books. The biggest threat to small booksellers in France comes from Amazon. And for now, small book shops are surviving quite well, selling books, not gifts.

NPR recently ran a segment about a French law that would go a long way toward ensuring the survival of bookstores. The French government has played a big role in fostering the bookstore-friendly environment and lately has accused Amazon of attempting to drive down the price of physical books, the opposite of what’s been happening in the States.

This month France’s lower house passed a bill that would prohibit Amazon from offering a 5 percent discount on books plus free delivery. Limiting discounts on books is one of the ways France is trying to ensure the survival of its independent booksellers. The French culture minister has also accused Amazon of spending several billion dollars on free shipping worldwide in order to gain a competitive edge.

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