The Sick Man of Europe’s disease gets contagious
July 10, 2014 | 2:36 pm
U.S. journalist Pamela Druckerman has outlined in the New York Times her sympathy for the anti-Amazon stance of France, and the cultural policies behind it. Entitled “The French Do Buy Books. Real Books,” her article lauds the French for anti-market policies designed to protect the primacy of the book and bookstores against those evil Anglo-Saxons.
Fired up to hunt for real bookstores selling real books, with words and stuff, by news of French champion Hachette’s travails at the hands of villainous Amazon, Druckerman counts “seven bookstores within a 10-minute walk” of her apartment. And for this she thanks France’s anti-Amazon laws, and the broader cult of the book in France.
Now, as some astute readers will know, France right now is no advertisement for any standard of cultural, social, or intellectual health. The new “Sick Man of Europe” has not only severe problems in economic competitiveness, it also has grown to personify that very French term: malaise. And the rise of the French National Front (FN) mirrors a climate of opinion where Jean-Marie Le Pen, the FN’s honorary president, can threaten more liberal (and Jewish) artists and writers with the words “We will make an ovenload of you next time.” Oops, Druckerman missed that out in her paean to French exceptionalism.
Also, at least one major French bookstore chain seems to be doing very well out of – you guessed it – online sales. Iconic media products retailer Fnac has turned round its loss-making position, according to its 2013 financial results, with the help of an online marketplace that saw a 30 percent sales rise in France during 2013, contributing to a 13 percent y-o-y rise in operating income. Could anti-Amazon legislation be the cause? I’m more inclined to believe that at least one French company knows how to use its brand, its presence, and its network to lever off the internet very well indeed.
Finally, if Amazon really is doing so well, there’s got to be some appeal to the products they ship. Apparently Amazon is not killing the appetite for the book – g’doh. So why should anti-Amazon policies be taken to protect books themselves – as opposed to bookstores, which may or may not have a separate justification for special treatment?
Either way, France right now doesn’t show much sign of culture and enlightenment. Let’s see: On the one hand we have over-regulation and a rigid, sclerotic wildly unpopular and discredited dirigiste elite, using traditions of overbearing state power and interventionist cultural policies to shore up a crumbling order; on the other, we have rampant unhappiness, social dysfunction, xenophobia, and resurgent anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism. Could there be a connection? France if anything seems ready to burn books – and their makers.