How to Fix France’s Fragmented E-distribution Platform

In Europe by Olivia Snaije

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By Olivia Snaije

French publishers, like those in many other countries, are facing the challenge of digital distribution for e-books. Until now, French publishers have opted to distribute books individually. Hachette owns Numilog, l’Harmattan has L’Harmathèque, and Editis has built E-Plateforme. Only Flammarion, Gallimard and Le Seuil-La Martinière are collaborating and are creating their own platform, Eden-Livres.

As with most issues in France, e-book distribution is not just a business concern, but a political one. A report on “creation and the internet,” commissioned by Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterand and presented in January, advocated the development of a single platform for the distribution of e-books.

The report rightly calls this individual system “fragmented,” noting that it is “essential” that publishers group together to create a unique platform so that booksellers can have easy access to all books without having to juggle several different platforms. Indeed, shortly after the report was released, executives from five of France’s biggest retailers, including FNAC, Virgin Megastore and Decitre, said that a national e-book platform run by publishers and retailers with a single point of purchase would not only be “three to five times” less expensive, but it would help fend off Google, Amazon and Apple.

The booksellers also advocated that the French government put in place a single-price mechanism for e-books, which already exists for physical books.

But French publishers are not biting. Francis Lang, sales director of Hachette Livre, put it bluntly when he said that if a government structure were put in place, it was “the best way of going nowhere.” He added that it was not in the interest of publishers to have a common platform, since their interests are not the same as those of physical booksellers.

The idea that publishers view as most attractive is the idea of a “hub.” Virginie Clayssen, co-head of digital development at Editis and president of the digital commission at the French Publishers Association (SNE), says it is necessary to develop a hub and not a common platform for e-distribution to enable retailers easy access to different catalogs. “The files would remain stocked on the different platforms but retailers would be able to connect to the hub, which would then dispatch information among the different platforms,” she said.

Clayssen explained that “French publishers attach a great deal of importance to the control of their file systems. The [platforms] that are in place are designed so that the file reaches the final client directly only once the transaction has taken place on the retailer’s site. The retailer will then forward to the client, by email or through the site of the e-bookshop, a link that will allow them to download the files that have been purchased.” Hachette’s platform, Numilog, which the company purchased in 2008, has already signed agreements with five booksellers, including Dialogue in Bordeaux and Gibert Jeune in Paris, as well as D Livre in Belgium and Archambaut in Quebec, Canada who will also sell e-books via Numilog.

For the moment it looks like the publishers will have their way and the government, always intent on preserving culture, may have to drop its idea of a single platform.

VISIT: the Numilog Web site

DISCUSS: What is preferable: individual, centralized or hybrid e-book distribution?

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about the Middle East, multiculturalism, translation, literature, and graphic novels. She is a contributor to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, Harper’s Bazaar Art, The Global Post, The New York Times and CNN.