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Culture France

Paris Book Fair opens as book sales resist recession

Video by Alexandra RENARD , Johan BODIN , Sarah DRURY

Text by Youssef ZERARKA

Latest update : 2009-03-13

The Paris book fair has reason to rejoice: French publishing has resisted the financial crisis through diversification and minimal debt. Despite the decrease in overall purchasing power, the French still consider books their gift of choice.

"Culture is what remains when all else is forgotten," said Edouard Herriot, head of the French government during the Great Depression. Indeed, the book sector was not vastly affected by the worldwide market crash of 1929.


The same phenomenon seems to be occurring now. According to the Institute of Marketing Studies (GfK), January 2009 book sales actually increased by 4.3% above the same period last year.


“The market is holding up,” Céline Fédou, head of the book market division of GfK France, said in an interview with FRANCE 24.


At a time when purchasing power is a top priority for the French, demand for books seems to be resilient. The reason may be their relatively low price – 11 euros on average per book, according to Fédou, who adds that during Christmas 2008, books became the “masses’ gift of choice” for the French.


A sector “in minimal debt”


If the French book market has resisted collateral damage from the failing economy, this is partly because the book industry espouses a viable economic model.  In addition to the way the industry is set up - with the larger houses being responsible for all stages of book production - French publishing has mastered the politics of diversification.


Publishing houses market to France and to other countries simultaneously. Whether it be literature or textbooks, they represent multiple fields of interest. Ronald Blunden, head of communications at Hachette, said, “When things aren’t looking too good elsewhere, we just focus on the French market. And when textbooks don’t seem to be moving, we just change the target niche.”


Historically, the French book market has risen above all the financial fluctuations of the last 30 years.  “The market has seen steady growth, interspersed by tiny dips,” says Blunden. Though some French publishing houses have closed, this is nothing compared to the number of closed houses in the English-speaking world, said Blunden. He attributed this to the fact that French editors take on “minimal debt”.


Another sign of good health is that the product offerings of French book publishing have run against the grain of other industries. In 2008, new releases rose by 5.3% over those of 2007, according to the French publishing trade magazine 'Livres Hebdo'. Precisely 601 new titles appeared on the “new releases” shelves of bookstores in France.


The Paris Book Fair, which opens on Friday, should serve as a barometer to confirm the robust health of the book industry.

Date created : 2009-03-13