France’s booksellers reopened in Paris this week but face the fear of bankruptcy through lack of custom

France’s booksellers reopened in Paris this week but face the fear of bankruptcy through lack of custom

FRENCH bookstores were allowed to reopen this week for the first time since March 17 as the government tries to balance the need to save a crashing economy whilst risking the spread of a second wave of the coronavirus.

At the ICI bookstore in Paris, wearing a mask is compulsory and hand sanitiser is readily available at the front door and inside to allow customers to pick up and flick through whichever book catches their eye.

Another store, Bouetard’s, 12 employees are back on the payroll after being temporarily furloughed, and the store has applied for two loans to help cover overhead costs.

France is a paradise for book lovers. Large chain booksellers exist, but independent bookstores are a part of the fabric of Parisian neighbourhoods.

France has a well-protected cultural life and institutions for decades. The French believe that national culture should be shielded from free-market forces.

Subsidies, quotas, income support and tax breaks help prop up French music, cinema and literature. It also has a law which prevents bookstores slashing prices in order to protect writers.

Even so, margins are tight and if store owners don’t get enough business to cover costs they could be in trouble.

The government is aware of the perils they and others face.

“They have very weak margins, very weak profits, and so they could have trouble finding the finances to pay back loans,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said during a visit to a bookstore last week. “We could have a string of bankrupt bookstores. That’s exactly what we want to avoid.”

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