Vive la France or no…

Last month, in Holland, I saw a wonderful sight.

BOOK STORES – many of them. The windows featured attractive, tasteful displays and their doors stood wide open. I saw all kinds of titles, in a score of languages. The covers of the books themselves ran the gamut from somber to edgy. Walking inside, I was greeted by helpful, multilingual staff that showed me where to find what I was looking for.

The shops were crowded with people – all engrossed in the process of purchasing a good read.

I saw posted notices for book clubs that were open to new members, and writers’ groups offering the same inclusiveness. One of the book stores had an “authors’ resource center,” with a smiling technician waiting beside a USB port. “Just plug your memory stick in there,” he said, “and your electronic file will be transformed into an actual bound book in just a few minutes.” WOW.

In another shop, there was a lively discussion going on – again in several languages – about a new French law that aims to stop low e-book pricing. Apparently, in France, on-line book sellers will no longer be able to offer e-books for less money than the hard copy edition. The consensus seemed to be that the same guidelines will soon be adopted throughout the European Union.

The book store owner was excited. “Because of e-books, it is hard to keep my place running,” she said, “this will help a lot! But, I wonder if the general public will embrace this idea quite so warmly?”

I own a Kindle and I live in Mérida, Yucatán, México – a place where not all titles are available – so I am grateful for instant electronic delivery. My budget-conscious side appreciates getting reading material for a fraction of the regular price. My environmentally-conscious side appreciates the saving of trees and energy that e-publishing has brought about.

As a writer, I initially thought that having my books “out there” and available for the whole world to buy would be a plus. However it isn’t quite that simple. I have less “real” marketing and promotional venues for my books and because e-publishing is accessible to everyone, my books are in direct competition with millions of others that are also “out there.”

And I lament the decline in hard copy book production and the fact that 1,000s of book stores have closed. “Real” books and book stores promote culture.

Although e-books are more practical, I prefer physical books. I like creative full-color covers and the formatting of a well-designed book enhances my enjoyment. I like being able to flip back and forth through the pages, and feeling the weight of a book in my hands is eminently more satisfying than my flimsy-feeling Kindle reader.

I once read a post by a blogger who wrote about how he wanted to get rid of his shelf of “old fashioned objects” AKA “real books.” I for one hope the day never comes when everyone feels this way.

To me, books are treasures; The French say they are, objets d’art. Bless them.

I have to agree with the French, both hard copy books and electronic versions should be sold for the same price. It will even the playing field, keep book stores open and promote culture.

20 thoughts on “Vive la France or no…”

  1. I SO agree with you, Joanna! I quite frankly even forget to continue reading some of my electronic books; but not so with the printed ones that I “see” on my table.

    1. How lovely to hear from you again, Alinde. I have missed your comments. But of course, I haven’t written much the past while. You have many well-loved, well-used books – they are part of your environment. If we want to continue enjoying books, we need to protect them from disappearing.

  2. Although I sympathize with the writer, selling the electronic version is similar to selling a paper back version over the hard backed bound version. By selling the electronic version for the same price as the paper version, the owner may not be able to retain their copy for future enjoyment or be able to share it with family and friends as with the real hand held egg stained version. I suppose the middle ground would be to buy the book version with an electronic one such as the arrangement with many DVD’s sold today with a downloadable version with a key for viewing on a laptop or tablet.. but that extracts the simplicity of the ethereal version spirited from the internet doesn’t it?

    Of the several thousand books I have read there are only a few that I bothered to keep for future reading but they are ones to be savoured and devoured. Their musty sheets soiled by unfinished food scraps, sneezes and dog eared corners, with feathers and photos for remembrance of days gone by. Darn difficult to that with electronic versions!

    1. Colm, they say that every Irishman is a poet, and you certainly show this to be true. Your description of well-loved books is gorgeous. And certainly, I understand your arguments. This is by no means an issue with one simple solution, is it?

  3. It seems to me the main issue is to keep Amazon from creating a monopoly by creating books into loss leaders, undercutting real bookstores. In France, Amazon can’t discount more than 5 percent and can’t combine a discount with free shipping, which updates a law that goes back to 1981. This is no different than when a company adds tariffs to goods from China or Japan. Sometimes the government has to step in to prevent predatory competitors.

    1. Well put Lee. And there is a lot at stake. I think a world with both hard copies and electronic can exist. But as you say, sometimes legislation is necessary to ensure that “the right thing” happens

  4. Much as I appreciate the French initiative, mostly as a way to stop to Amazon’s depredation of the book market (and the loss in income to both authors and publishers), there is a legitimate need for eBooks.

    I always intended my history of Mexico to be accessible to students. Even though the cost of the eBook is only about 25% less than the tradtional format, where my book is used as a supplemental text, it means the difference between a student puchaching it (and, one hopes, reading it) and not buying it at all. Besides, I earn much better royalties (when they are eventually paid) on eBook sales.

    As a publisher, we have a few titles that will never generate the sales a “traditional” book would require to merely break even. Printing, warehousing and shipping costs are overhead that eat into both the publisher’s budget and author’s royalties. On a book that might only sell a hundred copies or so, that’s just not feasible. As a writer of some of minor works myself, where the intended market are scholars laboring in obscure fields or specialists, there is no other way to distribute a title. Not unless those scholars have an unlimited budget.

    My own research budget falling somewhere between non-existent and laughable, eBook republication of out of print works has made my work possible. Without cheap eBooks, I might have to go out and get a real job … eeewwwww! 🙂

    1. Hi Richard. You are right, there is a need for inexpensive e-books. If a title is not published as a physical book, it stands to reason that the could be priced as the author wants. As I see it, the issue is with books that are released as hard copies. If the e-book version is so much less expensive, this hurts sales of the physical ones, and it hurts book stores and publishers too. Do not misunderstand me, I think e-books have their place but I agree with the French, there should be a fair playing field.

  5. It comes down to portability for me. I have hundreds of books on my Kindle Fire, toting those same books around would require a dump truck. Many of my archeology, geology and history tomes are only available on e-format. I like being able to leaf pages, I buy hard paper newspapers everyday because I like to move back and forth in the paper, take clipping for the front of the fridge; it is just more convenient. Take our library, Linda and I had thousands of books on our shelves, sagging shelves to be honest, we sent 90% to Goodwill and gained enough room to install a pool table. Have we missed the books, a few times we have gone looking for something to reference and found it missing but not very often.

    On France: My wife buys a lot of books written in the French language, she finds the books bought and shipped from France to our home in Ohio to be much more expensive than books of the same title sent from Canada, not just the shipping but the book itself. The market is a brutal beast, Linda buys her books in French from the seller who has the best price. The little black lines on the map mean nothing to our world’s market, price does. The French book sellers will be shut out of the world’s market by a very short sighted rule. Protectionism is a heavy sword that tends to cut off one’s foot when its weight becomes too great to bare.

    1. Thank you for your comments Norm. I am also in favor of a world that includes e-books. I appreciate them for the same reasons as you do.

      My issue is with pricing. Very low cost ebooks undercut the physical books, which puts writers, publishers and book stores in a precarious position. I think readers need to keep in mind that if writers can’t make a living, and publishers can’t make a profit on books, there will be less and less quality ones written. No one expects other professional groups to give their work away…

      It isn’t that writers are “only interested in the money,” not at all, but everyone needs to be able to live off their work. The number of writers who can do this dwindles every day

      And then there is the pirating. I know of at least 4 sites where you can download my books for free. It is quite disappointing

      As for France losing market share, I hope that doesn’t happen. I don’t think they are trying to be protectionist, I think they are trying to protect an important part of our culture: the written word.

      Sorry if you disagree but there are two sides to every issue. We all need to keep that in mind

      1. I think paper books have a long future. The idea that we need a law to prop their price up will have the same results as catching water in a sieve, folks will buy elsewhere. The authors will make their money with a combination of print and E. I suspect most textbooks will be E, things like travel books as well. The hard book will always have a place at the beach.
        Change is hard. I spent my working life making steel, the iron house went from 800 men and women making 10,000 tons of steel a month when I started, to making 10,000 tons of steel with 150 people when I retired and trust me, the steel of 2008 was a much better quality product than 1978’s steel. We had to change or the foreign imports would have rolled over us like a train.
        The E-train is on the track and rolling along, the hard book industry has to ride with the train or be hit by that train. Selling a hard copy with an e-copy would be one way. My copy of the Economist comes to the house in the mail, I can read it on my computer as well-I like that.

      2. Well thought-out arguments Norm. But I do question comparing books to commodities.

        I think books are different. They are like art. Can computer generated images on my computer screen compare to seeing a Renoir canvas? Of course not; nonetheless, it is wonderful to have the CG image to look at when I “don’t happen to be” at La Louvre… Downloading a book and reading it on the Kindle is not as satisfying as holding the “real thing”, but in Merida, many titles are not available. I appreciate e-books. Truly I do.

        The print industry will have to rejuvenate in order to compete with electronic publishing, and I hope a way is found to see the hard copy and electronic book industries coexist, with prosperity in both camps.

  6. I have to say, it’s great that there are bookstores in Holland. Here in Boston and Cambridge, we too have quite a few hardy survivors, though far fewer than when I moved here in 1995.

    But I think it’s unreasonable to set up a state bureaucracy to regulate the pricing structure of innovations. You could make similar arguments about the transition from horse and carriage to cars. But horses are so lovely! You can’t pet a car. A horse will always find its way home, no matter how inebriated the rider is. Etc, etc, etc.

    In general, when the price of a product is lower, that means more people can enjoy it. For the state to require that e-books be priced at parity with hardcover paper books is just ridiculous, and it keeps more books out of the hands of people who want to read them.

    The same thing happened with record stores a few years ago, yet there is no shortage of new music to listen to.

    If e-books are allowed to flourish, we’ll have fewer bookstores, but still plenty of material to read.

    I think I come down on the side of readers on this one.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where it might not be a bad idea for the government to sponsor some kind of open standard for e-books that allows anyone to publish.

    1. Thanks Kim. But I can’t compare books to horses. That is too big a leap for me…

      Recorded music? Yes. It has been a challenge for the artists who’ve had to make the transition from LPs to digital. But music recordings have been enhanced by the electronic age. And live performances by artists are still found on every street corner, park and concert hall, all over the world. Some live concerts are free – others cost princely sums. The venues are still in place, so live performance doesn’t disappear.

      I can’t yet say that books have been made better by electronic delivery. Maybe in the not-too-distant future, we will have e-books in color? Maybe we will have imbedded audio and video to enhance the read? Who knows… But as it stands now, we have one mega-corporation acquiring much of civilization’s written word. I wonder if the company will keep the publication of e-books as all-inclusive for writers, and as economical for readers in the future?

      Technology is faster, cheaper and easier, but I think books are in a class of their own. I am in a minority, but I don’t think the reading public should be quite so passive about letting e-publishing grow on inertia. I think there does need to be a way to ensure that the distribution of books continues to be universal. The French may not have hit on the right “means” but they are recognizing there is an issue and are giving their method a shot. Time will tell, I guess…

      There is lots of murky water in our brave new world.

  7. It will be a very sad story if real books are totally replaced with e-books. Many may agree e-books are the best thing since the invention of the Kleenex but, sorry, I far prefer the feel, heft and leafing through the pages of a real book. While e-books may be easier, lighter to carry and cheaper, there are those like me who do not enjoy finger flipping on a Kindle or Kobo. Also when I am away from my reading for a period of time and pick up my real book to continue the story. I often need to go back pages to remember who’s who and what’s what and would find finger flipping backwards through an e-book a real PITA.

    1. I don’t think physical books will ever be completely replaced by electronic ones. But maybe widely distributed physical books will be. In my opinion, the way the industry operates right now does not bode well for the future. You basically have one company who is amassing control over delivery of the written word. The company is all-inclusive right now, but what direction will it take in the future? There is much to ponder.

  8. I have tried e-books and it just isn’t the same… Strange as it may sound, I need the paperbook in my hands to “own the story”. Yes, this may sound strange, but, for me, the emotional connection with the text, with the story, is much more fulfilling with a paperbook. I am presently vacationing in Toronto/Mississauga/Brampton/Burlington, Ontario, Canadá, and I noticed that Índigo/Chapters control the book market. Small, inviting and intimate/personal bookstores are quite rare around these parts. How unfortunate!

    Been thinking about Mérida… missing it, for the most part. Abrazos, José

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s