Booksellers are furious a novel distributed only by Amazon has made it onto the long-list for one of France’s top literary prizes, saying it rewards the goliath that threatens both their livelihood and the country’s heritage.
It’s the literary equivalent of the Cannes-Netflix brouhaha, a tussle pitting France’s cherished independent bookstores against the American behemoth threatening their fragile ecosystem.
A year after the Cannes Film Festival triggered a fierce backlash from France’s myriad cinemas by inviting online upstart Netflix, one of the country’s top literary prizes – the Prix Renaudot – has sparked similar outrage among bookstores this week by selecting a novel distributed by their mortal foe Amazon.
The book, “Bande de Français” by French-Israeli author Marco Koskas, was included in a long-list of seven essays and 17 novels competing for the Renaudot, generally regarded as the second most prestigious French-language prize after the Goncourt. It is self-published and available only on Amazon – unless bookstores choose to order it from the online platform, a step many are loath to take.
“Do they want us to pay our most ferocious competitor? To give him money so he can kill us?” asked Mélanie Le Saux, a bookseller in the Paris region who posted an open letter on Facebook on Sunday in which she blasted the Renaudot jury for “throwing the door wide open to the beast”.
“Either we buy the book from our competitor, or we just won’t have it,” Le Saux told FRANCE 24. “It’s a very strong signal: Amazon has won their blessing.”
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France has fixed book-prices and a 5% cap on discounts to protect small shops from larger competitors, measures that are widely credited with protecting the country’s extensive network of independent bookstores.
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In 2013, parliament passed a bill – dubbed the “Amazon law” – that prevents online platforms from providing free delivery on top of the 5% discount on books, handing a victory to France’s estimated 3,000 independent bookshops.
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Patrick Besson, a writer and member of the Renaudot jury, has defended the decision to select Koskas’s novel in an interview with French weekly Le Point (where he also publishes a column), arguing that it is not uncommon for authors to self-publish or foot the publisher’s bill.
“Take Proust,” he said. “’Swann’s Way’ was published by Grasset in 1913 at the author’s expense. What farmer would let others plough his field for a meagre 10% return? It’s normal for authors to be unhappy with the current business model and rebel against publishers. It’s the text I’m interested in; I don’t care about the rest.”
The author of “Bande de Français” is hardly a newcomer in the trade. He’s already published a number of books with the likes of Fayard, Grasset and Robert Laffon. But he says his last work, about French Jews who emigrate to Israel, was turned down by publishers – a decision he blamed on “delirious Israelophobia”.
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“With this decision, does the Prix Renaudot realise it is doing a disservice to the author himself and to bookshops, as well as sending a worrying signal for the future of the industry?” the statement read.
The Syndicat added: “How deceitful and sinister Amazon’s dream world is. No more hierarchy between works, reduced to mere usernames on a platform; no editorial policy but millions of titles accumulated haphazardly; no books in lively areas of ‘commerce’; no people hired to bring works and authors to readers; warehouses and a sophisticated algorithm instead of spoken words.”
Link to the rest at France24 and thanks to DM for the tip.
PG says fixing prices and limiting discounts prevents poor people in France from purchasing books they would like to own. Price-fixing regimes always harm consumers for the benefit of a relatively small group of insiders with political influence.