The coronavirus pandemic may continue to cloud people’s lives, but it has generated a silver lining for the French book industry.
Sales by the 405 members of the Observatoire du Syndicat de la Librairie Française (SLF) increased by 20.4% in 2021 compared to 2020, and by 24.3% compared to 2019. Observatoire account for more than half of all 3,000 sales by independent booksellers in France, according to Anne Martell, president of the SLF and co-director of the family bookstore Martelle in Amiens, in the north of the country.
December 2021 sales were down 14.6% from the previous year, but up 21% from December 2019. They were abnormally high at the end of 2020 after the second Covid-19 lockdown when it there was “an explosion” in demand, Martell said.
The Syndicat National de l’Edition (SNE) does not yet have final figures for 2021, but director Pierre Dutilleul says publisher sales for December were down in 2021 compared to 2020, and were about the same. same in 2019. Complete Annual sales show a much brighter picture. “In 2021 they were up about 20% from 2020 and 18% to 19% from 2019,” he said. The bookstore. “We have never seen such an increase since the turn of the century.” Since 2000, sales have been either flat or slightly down, with confirmed 2020 figures down 2.3% from a year earlier at 2.7 billion euros.
Over the past year, comics, manga, children’s books, and adult fiction and nonfiction have been strong performers. “Adult book sales are probably up 10% year over year,” Dutilleul added.
The two Christmas bestsellers in bookstores are not surprising: the winner of the Goncourt 2021 prize, The Most Secret Memory of Men (The most secret memory of men) by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, and Asterix and the Griffinthe 39th and last in the Asterix series.
A big development is the renewed enthusiasm of the French for reading and books as objects after the two confinements which lasted almost four months in 2020. “It was an eye opener and is continuing,” said Martell . “Customer enjoyment of looking at and touching books is still more intense than it was before the pandemic began. I did not expect this to happen.
Less positive is the number of books to be published in France in January and February. They include 545 novels and come on top of the 521 novels released between August and October, according to Weekly Books. Some titles have been delayed by Covid, but “to release over 1,000 in seven months is utter madness,” Martell said. “Booksellers will never be able to absorb so much. Other than that, I wonder if some were worth posting in the first place.
Dutilleul sees the problem in a different light. Apart from the Covid delays, he notes that 70% of publishing houses in France were founded in the last 30 years. “It creates editorial diversity. Why would they be or should they be prevented from publishing? They take the financial risk, and anyway no one knows how many books will be published at any given time until they are announced before distribution.
Moreover, French publishers now have a greater choice of manuscripts than ever before. “They have never received as many as in 2020 and 2021,” said Dutilleul. And that’s not counting the sharp increase in self-publishing. “The French love to write,” he added.
As for 2022, it is difficult to predict whether growth will be of the same magnitude as this year. “It’s very difficult for publishers to set their budgets, and I think they’ll be careful. We can’t expect the same great results every year,” he said.
The latest studies show that the overall number of readers in France has declined, but new readers continue to join their ranks. The government’s Pass Culture for 18-year-olds, worth €300, was spent mostly on books, according to Dutilleul.
The pass is now extended, with different spending limits, to 15-17 year olds, and can be used for concerts, theatre, cinema, video games or any other cultural product as long as they are purchased in stores and not online. . “The pass was a specular success,” added Dutilleul. “There are around 800,000 18-year-olds in France, which means hundreds of thousands may have entered bookstores for the first time in their lives.”