Thursday, 10 June 2010

The Managed Economy of Books

The Guardian Newspaper carried a rather interesting story last week. There has been a move to protect "part of Paris's intellectual soul". The cause of this move is the worrying decline in numbers of the 'librairies' in the Latin Quarter, a central hub of Paris's cultural and educational heart down from 231 to 127 from 2000 to 2008. The mayor of Paris has set out scouts in its fifth arrondissement to hunt down locations for possible bookshops or publishing houses and then ensuring that the premises are only available for those purposes. The French capital prides itself upon its host of independent retailers and does not wish its high streets to end up resembling those of its anglo-saxon counterparts.

How effective the Parisian measures will be will be told in time but it's an interesting step and something the British should take heed of because it is a country in which the high streets of its towns and cities suffer from a tiresome and boring ubiquity with the same chain stores gracing every city. Take Waterstones for instance who own 303 stores throughout the country many of which are in London and they will, other than in their strictly academic branches, have a stocking policy that is popularist rather than enlightening or niche.

The effect of Waterstones' success can be seen on Charring Cross Road, the historical home of London's independent book stores which are closing down and not being replaced with other book stores. Were the mayor to step in he could be taking steps to ensure that the road retained its place as the cultural and intellectual heart of the city but instead the shops will go and maybe some time down the line Waterstones will open their Charring Cross branch and we'll be thankful that whilst we can't buy any more Brecht or Akhmatova, we might settle for the new Jackie Collins novel.