PARIS – Amazon released the first Kindle in France last week with a library of over 825,000 global titles, including 35,000 French works. For 99 euros readers can have access to literary classics like Baudelaire and Zola or to daily papers like Le Figaro and Le Monde without dirtying their hands. The arrival comes nearly four years after the American debut of the electronic reader.
Paris, long a literary capital of the world, has not been quick to embrace electronic readers. Slowly, French book stores like Gilbert Jeune have been offering downloadable books and media department store FNAC has even released its own slightly more expensive version of the Kindle. Still, with a relatively popular independent bookstore scene and a slow-adapting culture, few Parisians can be seen reading digital version of Victor Hugo's works while sitting in a café.
The affordably-priced Kindle, cheaper than all of its competitors and with thousands of English books, poses a potential threat to specialty bookshops that don’t sell e-books. Among them, a community of English-speaking bookstores could be in peril with the popularization of the Kindle. Communities have developed around independent book shops, like the famed Anglophone bookshops Shakespeare and Company or the Village Voice, where authors debut their latest novels and where writers come to share ideas.
Among these shops is the Red Wheelbarrow in the Marais neighborhood. Owner Penelope Fletcher has been catering to English-speakers since 2001 and sees the Kindle as another blow to the book industry that could slowly push her out of the book-selling business.
She says that the American Kindle has already affected many of her North American customers who no longer need to buy costly books imported from English-speaking countries. "Most of our customers are people who come from places that don’t have Kindles," Fletcher said.
As that list dwindles, she is still confident that Paris will embrace independent book sellers in some ways. "For French bookstores, the book industry will continue. It’s part of the tradition like going to a wine shop to get wine," she said.
While the long-term success of the Kindle in France remains to be seen, Fletcher hopes that books will have a renaissance of sorts despite the convenience of the Kindle. "I think it'll become kind of chic to read books," she said, "because on the Kindle you just read it and it’s gone. No one can come to your home and see who you are on your shelves."
The highly anticipated Kindle Fire could make its way across the Atlantic in the future, but Amazon has not yet announced its plans with the French market.