In contrast to the UK's famous three-for-two deals, the French state fixes the prices of books and readers pay the same whether they buy online, at a high-street giant or a small bookseller. Discounting is banned. The government boasts that price controls have saved small independent bookshops from the ravages of free-market capitalism that were unleashed in the UK when it abandoned fixed prices in the 1990s. France has more than 3,000 independent local bookshops and 400 in Paris, compared with around 1,000 in the UK and only 130 in London. But online book giants are still eating into small bookshops, many of which struggle to stay afloat.
The next question obsessing the market-watchers is whether old habits will change and the ebook will catch on in France. The state price-fixing rule has been extended to digital reading. But the change is not just a question of cost. Surveys have shown that the majority of French readers, like those in Germany, still prefer paper books to reading onscreen. While sales of English-language ebooks have grown rapidly – to around 20% of total book sales in the US and almost 10% in the UK – in France, predictions for this year are hovering at around 3% of the market. Some publishing giants are confident that ebook growth will come to France in time, but for now the paperback has the advantage.