The real problem here is not Amazon or books or even Google, it's the French mindset that things should never change,
Fetishing bookshops doesn't have any emotional appeal to me - they're just buildings stacked with a small and limited selection of reading materials, which inefficiently deploy land and people. Given the rise of the e-book even large chain bookshops will likely disappear over the coming decades, and who will cry for them?
The geek as cultural imperialist.
What has no value for me has no value for you.
The French have all kinds of worthwhile ideas on larger matters. This occurred to me recently when I was strolling through my museum-like neighborhood in central Paris, and realized there were --- I kid you not --- seven bookstores within a 10-minute walk of my apartment. Granted, I live in a bookish area. But still: Do the French know something about the book business that we Americans don't?
For a few bucks off and the pleasure of shopping from bed, have we handed over a precious natural resource --- our nation's books --- to an ambitious billionaire with an engineering degree?
France, meanwhile, has just unanimously passed a so-called anti-Amazon law, which says online sellers can't offer free shipping on discounted books. The new measure is part of France's effort to promote "biblio-diversity" and help independent bookstores compete. Here, there's no big bookseller with the power to suddenly turn off the spigot. People in the industry estimate that Amazon has a 10 or 12 percent share of new book sales in France. Amazon reportedly handles 70 percent of the country's online book sales, but just 18 percent of books are sold online.
The French secret is deeply un-American: fixed book prices.
Fixing book prices may sound shocking to Americans, but it's common around the world, for the same reason. In Germany, retailers aren't allowed to discount most books at all. Six of the world's 10 biggest book-selling countries --- Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Spain and South Korea --- have versions of fixed book prices.
What underlies France's book laws isn't just an economic position --- it's also a worldview. Quite simply, the French treat books as special. Some 70 percent of French people said they read at least one book last year; the average among French readers was 15 books. Readers say they trust books far more than any other medium, including newspapers and TV. The French government classifies books as an "essential good," along with electricity, bread and water. A French friend of mine runs a charity, Libraries Without Borders, which brings books to survivors of natural disasters.
The French aren't being pretentious or fetishizing bookstores. They're giving voice to something we know in America, too. "When your computer dies, you throw it away," says Mr. Montagne of the publishers' association. "But you'll remember a book 20 years later. You've deeply entered into a story that's not your own. It's forged who you are. You'll only see later how much it has affected you. You don't keep all books, but it's not a market like others. The contents of a bookcase can define who you are."
The French Do Buy Books. Real Books.