eiffel-tower-927638_960_720I love France, home to Mantano Reader, Feedbooks and other glories of e-bookdom.

But all is not well there. Jerry Lewis isn’t the only case of French and American tastes diverging. While e-books might make up 20-30 percent of the American market—pick your stats—they were just 6.4 percent of the book market in France in 2014.

The figure comes from Syndicat nationale de l’edition, a publishers’ organization. A Marketplace article, France’s indie bookstores thrive in the age of Amazon, which I cited in an earlier version of this post, got the figure wrong at 2.8 percent. Perhaps Marketplace confused total sales with consumer e-book sales (yes, a bit under three percent). The French e-book sales are heavily concentrated in such areas as professional publishing, Nate reminds us. Some good news is that total 2014 sales are up 53 percent from 2013. Meanwhile I’ll welcome fresher stats.

Mind you, it isn’t as if France is the worst major country for e-books, but at least on the consumer-sales side, it could be doing much better, given all the great innovation at places such as Mantano and Feedbooks. The anti-discount laws and others discussed in the Marketplace article could be a reason.

Perhaps, as a more urbanized country than the United States, France is less appreciative of the ease with which e-books can be distributed. Not to mention the famous French love of good aesthetics (so evident in the design of hardware and Web sites such as Feedbooks). Probably tradition and misplaced cultural pride are the main factors in the consumer area, considering the heavy adoption rate of e-books on the professional side (two-fifths of publishers’ professional sales in 2014), where readers might care less about polished presentation and more about information.

Whatever the reasons, I hope the French will ponder the negatives of e-book-hostile laws and policies—in this era when so many poor people from Muslim countries have migrated. Good public e-libraries and inexpensive e-books, whether from Amazon or elsewhere, could be one way to speed up the assimilation process and reduce tensions.

Related: The French get exceptionally stupid, 2013 commentary from Paul St John Mackintosh. Excerpt: “France certainly has a culture worth protecting and promoting—its intellectual and artistic prestige is vast. And the preservation of linguistic and cultural difference and diversity across Europe is an absolute, urgent priority. But state power is the last, worst instrument to achieve that, not least because it tends to weaken and emasculate the very social and cultural bodies it is supposed to protect. The heavy hand of the French state has lain on the French language and French culture for decades, and both are still in decline. Could there be a connection?”

(Revised to rely on better information than the Marketplace article supplied.)

Photo credit: Here.


  1. @Nate: Thanks very much. Marketplace public radio wrong? Perish the thought 😉 Even if the 6.4 percent figure is correct, however, that’s far behind the U.S., and France’s laws are hardly e-book friendly. At least a little cause-effect here? I think so.

    Update: I’ve revised the headline and text to reflect the numbers directly from the French publishers. As noted, Marketplace must have confused consumer e-book sales and total e-book sales.

      • @Nate: Calm down. You’re right here in the comments with your Digital Reader logo even though you’re as close as just about anyone to being a direct competitor. This happens how many times a month? 10? 20? 30? I’ve lost count. If I hang around The Digital Reader and start promoting TeleRead as eagerly, do you absolutely promise to run all my comments? At any rate the first revision linked to you and the second now mentions the sacred N Word.

        I’m happy to be corrected on factual matters, not just carry other perspectives, since the goal here is to get at the truth, not feign perfection, and in the other direction I appreciate the apology you made when Chris or Paul was right and you were wrong.

        Regarding for the headline, the “Zut alors” is correct French slang for “Damn!” If the headline is still wrong, then say so. The 6.4 percent is the same SNE figure you picked up.


        Update: In your apology, a word I’ve used even if it might not technically qualify as such, you write that “Sometimes (frequently) I am an idiot.” You are. Me, too. So is everyone who churns out a lot of blog copy. All we can do is try our best, when we write our copy, and be transparent about our errors in situations like this one. The so-called “mainstream media” is often wrong as well (as illustrated by the Marketplace example). The difference is that good blogs fess up.

        • “If I hang around The Digital Reader and start promoting TeleRead as eagerly, do you absolutely promise to run all my comments?”

          Maybe you should ask Chris, ’cause that’s what h does. I wasn’t going to complain, or even mention it, but since you want to pick a fight over it …

    • Prices, prices, prices.
      French-released books are crazily expensive in France (from $15 to $25 for big paperbacks) and ebooks are along the same pricing. Mass market paperbacks are in the $5 (classics) to $10 (recent ones) and the ebooks have almos the same price.
      In a nutshell: publishers do not want ebooks and as they fully control the price in France (fixed prices, quite agency-like), they almost killed french ebooks.

      • @laloicLoïc: Merci. Of course, we would still be in the policy or legal realm–in that the publishers could get away with an agency-style approach. If anything, might it be even more harmful to e-books in France than in the U.S., since presumably Amazon lacks the same level of presence? Your further thoughts welcome.

        • Amazon is the leading online book and ebook retailer in France (though I cannot remember its exact market share), but it is not because of its prices: the maximal discount for books in France is fixed to 5% of the publisher-designated price. It mostly is because its main competitor, FNAC (leading brick and mortar book retailer) has an awful and barely usable website.
          Amazon is leading, but for books, it is not as ubiquitous as in the US.

  2. @laloic hit the nail on the head for me with the comment about e-book prices here in France. You can see 18.99 euros for an e-book, with the print version only slightly more expenisve (say by 1 euro), the same or even cheaper. It’s crazy and very short-sighted of publishers. As you say, cheap e-books being available to everyone could do so much good culture-wise. My own view is that e-books are here to stay and will eventually dominate the book market, despite traditional publishers putting up so many temporary hurdles. Books need to and will keep evolving. We’ve moved on from illustrated manuscripts on vellum, so inevitably we’ll move on from ones on paper, although admittedly that could take a while!