French publishing reportThe 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.”

French publishing reportAnd 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.


  1. It’s not about inertia, sclerosis or anything. It’s about insane pricings of ebooks because of fixed pricing. It’s exactly the same price as paper books, and it’s really expensive for newly released book. Americans complain about agency pricing, $13 for a book. In France it’s $20 to $30 for a recent book. CRAZY!
    Yes I am French but as English books are cheaper, I mostly buy English stuff…

  2. Hi, thanks for this post. As a guy publishing in both US and FR market and making a nice living from, I’m pretty sure of one thing: The French Publishers Association (“Syndicat national de l’édition” ) is not the most unbiased source to take information from, since they are what they are… – a lobby of Publishers – annoyed by the fact that our days, anyone can show his content to the world without having to waiting for their agreement. Now I agree with the fact that, the ebook uptake is slower just because of establishments as you said but on another side, it’s gonna growing anyway and that, despite all the sneaky things they’re using as trying to control pricing and so on. Self-publishers like me and many others didn’t wait their agreement to sell their books exactly the price we want anyway. Success stories of self-publishers are starting to happen in FR, and it won’t stop there. Yes there are still many people here, being cynical about anything progressive but there are the same kind of people who were protesting against TV and web yesterday, but today they just cannot live without – So be sure that, the ebook has a nice future – even in FR lol : ))

  3. Thanks for your article. I’m a self-publisher (e-publishing on the French market) and I’m enjoying that new opportunity that digital books are bringing everywhere in the world. While it is true that the French ebooks market has been slow to start and French people are sometime reluctant to jump from paper to digital books, I/m pretty confident that it’s going to develop and catch up pretty soon with better markets such as US or UK.
    My recent increasing sales and one of my book serial (Lacan et la boîte de mouchoirs) getting in the top100 on for more than a month by now are very hopeful signs of an emergence of the digital books market. Best regards. Chris

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