There’s a lot happening in the book world in France at the moment. Next week sees the Salon du Livre in Paris, France’s equivalent of the London Book Fair that I have been to several times. I’m sorely tempted to go. It runs from 18th to 21st March at Paris Porte de Versailles – Pavillon 1, Boulevard Victor, Paris 15ème. (Website at http://www.salondulivreparis.com/.) But … Caiti has her  hospital appointment on the 16th, it’s St Patrick’s Day on the 17th (so we’ll be having a little party at  home) and then Argyle, our favourite French rock band, are coming to Boussac on the 18th. That will be a late night so I’m not sure I’ll be up for a long trip to Paris on either the Saturday or Sunday. I’ll probably still be recovering from my Strasbourg trip this weekend! But we’ll see … it would be fantastically interesting.

And last week some French publishers were being raided. Other European countries have seen similar raids, but France seems to have had the most. Hachette Livre, Gallimard, Flammarion and La Martinière were among those affected, and commented that the authorities involved didn’t tell them why.

The above photo is from http://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/european-union-officials-raid-ebook-publishers/

But it’s all to do with ebook pricing. Many of the publishing companies under scrutiny have only recently got into them and haven’t setup a proper pricing policy yet. For now, they are going along with a temporary agency model for pricing, and this is what is causing the problem. Agency pricing is very like the net book agreement that used to hold sway in the UK and Ireland. Under this, publishers set the price at which a book was to be sold, and that was that. Booksellers couldn’t sell it for less. The net book agreement was brought down when supermarkets and the big chains of bookshops challenged it.

At the moment France adheres to the Lang Law for physical, i.e. paper, books. It establishes a fixed price for books sold in France and limits the discounts that can be offered on them by booksellers. But it doesn’t apply to ebooks. So publishers are fixing the price in stone and EU officials don’t like it, even though the French Competition Authority said in 2009 that the agency model was “a possible solution” for pricing ebooks. However, by restricting booksellers from offering discounts to promote some of the titles they stock, this goes against some of the objectives of the culture ministry in France.

A statement from the Directorate General for Competition read: “The European Commission can confirm that on 1 March 2011 Commission officials initiated unannounced inspections at the premises of companies that are active in the e-book (electronic or digital books) publishing sector in several Member States. The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).”

It seems odd that publishers are reverting to this old practice of price fixing and making books more expensive than they need to be. Some pro-electronic publishing forums have suggested that, like cigarettes, ebooks produced by the publishers adopting the agency model should come with a warning along the lines of: Warning: buying this book will support a publisher who wants to increase book prices for all.

It will be interesting to see how this matter is resolved. For my own part, I am a little annoyed that the books I buy from Amazon.com for my Kindle cost me more than they would a buyer in the USA. Books that they can get for $2.99 cost me, here in France, $5.74. Why? There’s no extra expense in sending Whispernet to France. Also books that are free in the USA, either aren’t available for Europe or you have to pay for them. Doesn’t seem quite fair. However, I did manage to get an Amanda Hocking novella for 99 cents though, the same price as in the States. (If you haven’t heard of her, you will soon. She is one of the first ebook millionaires, lucky thing! Her blog is at http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/ where I’ve taken her photo from.) Review of her book coming soon!