By Olivia Snaije
Publishers in Paris have traditionally been germanopratins, or of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood in Paris’ 6th arrondissement. As in all cities, neighborhoods evolve and little by little this long-established nucleus is coming apart at the seams.
Publishers merged and felt a need to group imprints together, others expanded so much over the years that their offices were spread over a multitude of small buildings. Meanwhile real estate in the 6th has become so expensive that only LVMH luxury brands can afford the new rents. New publishers such as Bragelonne and Allary Editions didn’t bother with the neighborhood and rented space across the river on the Right Bank.
Les Presses de la Cité was the first publisher to leave Saint-Germain in 1989, for the 13th arrondissement, which, at the time was psychologically miles away. A few years later publisher Bernard Fixot moved Robert Laffont across the Seine to the Right Bank.
Then the Hachette group abandoned its mammoth headquarters on the corner of the Saint-Michel and Saint-German boulevards to the Quai de Grenelle in the 15th arrondissement. The next big move was in 2005, when the Flammarion group relocated to a new development in the 13th arrondissement along the banks of the Seine.
“Nine years ago when we first moved we had to wear boots because it was so muddy everywhere,” recalled Hélène Wadowksi, head of Flammarion’s children’s books. “The entire neighborhood was a construction site, and our building was one of the first. The early years were a little difficult, it was as if we were in the former Soviet Union — when a new supermarket opened we were all excited.”
The building owned by the Flammarion family on rue Racine, in which Flammarion had originally been headquartered was sold and all the imprints besides the literature division, which remains in a building near the Odeon theatre in the 6th, migrated to the 13th.
“I can understand from the point of view of the company that it was better to have everyone together, ” said Wadowski. “We were spread out over 14 sites and we spent our days in the stairways and in the street going to different buildings. Now the marketing division is on 1th floor; our CEO is on the 4th floor. I’m not convinced that our big building is less costly than where we were before though. But we have pleasant offices and even if we can’t open our windows this is a minor detail. I’d be happiest if the book market were doing better.”
Following its acquisition by La Martinière, Le Seuil, which was spread over even more buildings than Flammarion, is no longer even in Paris proper, and has crossed over the ring road to the southern suburbs, like part of Hachette’s offices.
Plon-Perrin-Presse de la Renaissance, part of Editis, moved just a year ago to join other imprints in a building at the Place d’Italie in the 13th arrondissement. Rebecca Byers, the rights director, left her office overlooking the tony Place Saint-Sulpice, where Catherine Deneuve was her neighbor, for a modern office building: “Of course I was sorry to leave the beautiful and chic sixth arrondissement but it’s fun to discover a new neighborhood and I think it’s good for French publishing to venture into uncharted territory outside of Saint Germain des Près!”
While employees of publishing companies had no choice but to move, grumbling or not, some authors will not travel to certain neighborhoods to meet with their editors.
“We have a few authors who refuse to come to the 13th,” commented Wadowski. “So we hop on the métro and go meet them.”
The celebrated bookshop, Le Divan, left Saint-Germain in 1996 for the 15th arrondissement. More recently there was momentary panic when the cherished La Hune bookstore had to move to yield its space to Louis Vuitton, however a compromise was found and La Hune reopened just down the street, occupying the former Dior boutique which is where Le Divan had originally been located.
The neighborhood described by Boris Vian in his Manuel de Saint-Germain-des-Prés is long gone, but some of the smaller publishers have not given up on the 6th. Les Arènes, which recently scored an editorial coup with the publication of François Hollande’s former partner’s autobiography, is installed in Le Seuil’s former headquarters…