The latest Activity Report “L’édition en perspective” (“Publishing in Perspective”) from France’s Syndicat national de l’édition (French Publishers Association) shows relatively modest market share growth for e-books, rising from one percent of the French book market in 2011 to three percent in 2012.
It also betrays exactly the kind of conservatism and sclerotic rate of change that is probably responsible for those poor figures in the first place.
Looking back on the past year, Vincent Montagne, President of the SNE, declares that:
“The main highlight has been the agreement signed on 21 March 2013 with the Writers’ Permanent Council. Three and a half years of discussions between authors and publishers led to a balanced agreement that brings publishing into the 21st century.”
The Writers’ Permanent Council (Conseil permanent des écrivains, or CPE), is a very French organization that comprises the 17 major writers’ associations and societies in France. This organization claimed to:
“have reached an agreement about the terms of an agreement which not only sets forth the new principles of book utilization in digital form, but also profoundly alters the contract binding the author to the publisher on modern grounds, adapted to 21 st century publishing.”
And although it does reformulate intellectual property and royalty structures for the French publishing industry, there is a very dirigiste, central planning flavor to the whole exercise, as well as to the importance granted it in the Activity Report. Those nasty Anglo-Saxon market forces hardly seem to get a look-in.
The Activity Report’s presentations on e-books are hardly more encouraging. (And it’s hardly a surprise that the Activity Report puts its main chapter on e-books straight after the chapter on physical book distribution and transportation inside France.) According to the GfK Institute data quoted in the Activity Report, France boasts 15.2 million smartphones, 5.1 million tablets and 500,000 e-readers.
Yes, as the Report insists, “the majority of French publishers today issue their new releases in both digital and paper format.” But they are publishing to a restricted reader base compared to Anglo-Saxon markets, where digital penetration into the 61 million French population appears far more limited, at only around 25 percent of the population owning even a smartphone.
On a more progressive note, Montagne also cited the commencement of the ReLIRE (Reread) project in March 2013, described as:
“the result of more than three years of preparation with the authors and the government, of an innovative project respectful of copyright, which will give access to hundreds of thousands of forgotten works of literature and the humanities from the past century.”
This was the exercise described elsewhere as an “outrageous French copyright grab”. Writers’ organizations outside France, such as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, are already up in arms about it.
So it seems that the French can’t even get progressive without getting in other people’s faces. All in all, I fear the latest developments in French publishing, and in broader technological adoption and social progess in France as a whole, are just going to push French publishers and writers’ organizations further into irrelevance, while cementing Amazon’s longterm market lead, despite its run-ins with the French establishment.