By Olivia Snaije
PARIS: In France the availability and choice of e-books remains extremely poor, with retailer Fnac.com remaining the most prominent outlet for digital books, despite efforts announced in early 2010 to confront France’s feeble and fragmented digital distribution platforms.
The slow adoption has been due, in part, to the idea that a paper book is the natural enemy of an e-book. Negotiations between traditional publishers and Amazon have been slow, there’s been bickering within the parliament on whether or not to apply a fixed price (which is the case with paper books) to e-books, add to this the Gallic tradition of caution when it comes to innovation, and it all results in many frustrated e-book readers.
This fall, on the eve of the famous “rentrée littéraire” (France’s literary season during which the majority of novels are published, 654 print books in 2011), over 20 Francophone companies involved in the publication or production of e-books have come together to create an attractive website, larentreelitteraire.org. The site features news about the season’s forthcoming e-books, articles on digital publishing, as well as book reviews. For Francophone readers, this site will be a first in providing a veritable catalogue of all published e-books including excerpts and interviews with authors.
The driving force behind the site is Walrus, an enhanced e-book publisher and creative studio, run by Julien Simon and Jérémie Gisserot. Walrus came up with the initial idea and then partnered with Nicholas Gary’s online publishing journal ActuaLitte.com for the content and PR.
Simon, who serves as editorial director of Walrus, said the idea was to offer the public a way to focus on what e-books are available and to demonstrate what the future of the book industry is about. He wants to underscore the fact that digital publishers are, above all, publishers — publishers who love books and give them the same attention as printed books.
Gary added that ActuaLitte is keen to promote reading, whatever the format, and the site is further evidence of a growing “bibliodiversity” in France.
“Today we are all really working together, digital publishers add their content to the site and anyone can contribute,” said Gary. “This might not be possible in ten years’ time because there will be too much competition. It’s really a place where digital publishers can share a space, which sounds utopistic and would sound totally strange elsewhere but in Europe.”
This collective effort among digital publishers is further evidence that e-books are just as likely to become an even strong force in France, even if it might take longer than other countries. Next, according to Gary, France is likely to see the arrival of both Amazon and Toronto-based global e-book retailer Kobo — which may arrive in France before Amazon. The hope is that Kobo will offer publishers less aggressive business arrangements than the US giant.
Once e-books on Kindle will become available in French and readers have other alternatives beyond buying books on Fnac.com, the situation “will likely progress very quickly,” noted Cecile Moscovitz of the book observatory Le MOTif.
All Francophone publishers who are interested in the project can contact firstname.lastname@example.org