From The Seattle Times:
Like many of the bouquinistes, the booksellers who line the banks of the Seine in the French capital, Bernard Terrades is a bit brusque.
Terrades specializes in thrillers, and he speaks in the clipped, precise patois of the literature he sells. And he regards the rise of Amazon, currently at the center of a heated French debate over e-retailing, as more than a little sinister.
Terrades fears that online bookselling, which Amazon.com dominates in France, is robbing the country of its culture.
“It’s completely empty,” Terrades said. “There is no connection with customers. People have lost the curiosity to go out and find books.”
All of which makes Terrades’ decision to sell books through Amazon’s marketplace wrenching. When online shoppers happen upon his digital storefront on Amazon.fr, they’ll never hear him wax on about the exploits of Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, the superspy creation of Terrades’ favorite author, Jean Bruce. Instead, they’ll see the uniform, lifeless Web page where Terrades sells his books alongside thousands of others.
“It really hurts me to do it, but I don’t have a choice,” said Terrades, whose Amazon sales account for about 20,000 euros ($26,477) a year, roughly 20 percent of his revenue. It’s what enables him to employ a part-time staffer to keep his bookstand and bookstore alive.
Like many French, Terrades is torn over Amazon. It has become a fixture in French literary life, a force that can’t be ignored. It’s so powerful that the French government recently passed legislation with no other goal than to thwart the Web giant. Dubbed the “anti-Amazon law” by the French media, it went into effect July 10 to combat what Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti called Amazon’s “dumping” of low-cost books in France in order to protect independent bookstores. It prohibits online retailers from discounting books or offering free shipping.
. . . .
“They come to Europe and they try to use the same business model,” said Kiran Girotra, professor of technology and operations management at INSEAD, a top European business school based in Fontainebleau, just south of Paris. “[It] hasn’t worked as well.”
That is a risky place for Amazon to be, perhaps more so than for most companies. Meteoric growth has always been the fuel that powers Amazon’s financial engine. Wall Street has long been willing to give the company a pass on slim profits, or even losses, as long as revenues continued to soar.
But Amazon’s international operations grew just 14 percent last year, to $29.9 billion. Many companies would be happy with that, but it’s just half the pace of its more mature North American unit, which grew 28 percent, to $44.5 billion. The weaker international performance, which also includes sales from emerging markets such as China and India, dragged Amazon’s overall growth down to 22 percent, a sharp drop from the 27 percent posted in 2012.
. . . .
The battle in Europe is as much cultural as it is financial. In France, the government moved to protect independent bookstores, as it has for years, because books hold a revered spot in a country that’s produced literary giants such as Voltaire and Proust.
In Germany, Amazon warehouse workers are fighting for a union contract because unions are deeply revered as part of the country’s fabric. And in the United Kingdom, lawmakers from across the political spectrum have chastised Amazon’s tax strategy for not paying its fair share.
To some extent, Amazon is battling cultural currents.
“These are uncontroversial issues,” said Girota, co-author of “The Risk-Driven Business Model,” which praises Amazon’s skillful shifting of strategy to adapt to evolving market challenges in the United States. “These are part of the broad social contract.”
Amazon, never averse to conflict, continues to battle its opponents in Europe. Executives say the clashes haven’t curbed sales; instead, they blame the slower growth on Europe’s moribund economic recovery. And they insist customers there want the same things its U.S. customers crave: low price, wide selection and shopping convenience.
“I don’t see people in Europe waking up in the morning saying I’m not going to shop at Amazon because I don’t like them,” Xavier Garambois, vice president of Amazon’s European retail operations, said in an interview at the company’s European headquarters in Luxembourg.
Link to the rest at The Seattle Times and thanks to CG for the tip.
The real problem, in PG’s eyes, is that the traditional guardians of literature both in the US and in Europe were presiding over a long decline in that business as the Internet and its myriad attractions were rapidly gaining an audience, particularly, but not exclusively, among the young.
Books were a stagnant business, headed toward a backwater. Bookstores were closing before Barnes & Noble and Borders exerted commercial pressure on them to close. Then Borders cratered.
PG says that Amazon saved books both as a commercial proposition and as a moving force in culture from the inept and blinkered grasp of a publishing business that, while once diverse and energetic, had become more and more concentrated into large media conglomerates which are surely among the most anti-creative organizations ever conceived by humankind.
Ebooks and a superb ebook store have reinvigorated both the purchasing of books and the culture of books. Millions of people who had given up visits to physical bookstores have regained their enthusiasm for reading via tablets and ereaders and an enormous range of choices in reading material that the corporate publishers deemed too non-commercial, not something you could put on the front tables at Barnes & Noble.
Amazon gave an Internet with an endless range of choices an internet bookstore with an endless range of choices. Books are much better off in this environment than they were in a world of narrow curation and bottom-line publishing.
Simply put, the literary, bookselling and publishing establishments were killing books with an exclusionary and elitist attitude coupled with an accountant’s obsession with quarterly profits. Amazon has opened the gates to an enormous democratic wave of authors and their books. Readers everywhere are responding to this wave with their dollars, euros and pounds.
And now, what the establishment can’t accomplish in free marketplace, it is trying to achieve with corrupt backroom political deals.