Each year at ‘la rentrée’ (the late Aug-early Sept back to school / back to work period) France’s literary season kicks-off with the release of a vast array of new books. This year’s literary season is expected to be an active one, with the release of 646 new titles [FR]. As avid readers [FR], the French are highly engaged in this annual event, actively following the widespread media coverage on the most celebrated new releases and happily flocking to bookstores to scoop up various new titles. The season ultimately culminates with the awarding of the much revered Prix Goncourt, given in November to the french-language literary work deemed as the year’s best. While the vast majority of this year’s new titles will be sold in traditional paper-format and through fixed retail outlets such as FNAC or independent bookstores, this year may be the first that ebooks make a significant mark on France’s fall literary season. Les Echos has even gone so far as to call it France’s first “vraie rentrée littéraire de l’ebook” [FR].
After the much publicized resistance in France to the concept of reading books in electronic rather than paper formats, this year will see the most new titles ever released in ebook versions. This comes on the heals of various settlements and deals involving ebooks (see here and here) as well as stronger growth in ereaders [FR], which have helped fuel increased ebook sales in France. Although figures are not widely released, there were an estimated 1.1 million paid ebook downloads in France in 2011 and e-books are expected to reach 13% of volume and 7% of value of France’s literary market by 2015. Though penetration of ebooks in France is much lower than in other markets such as the US or the UK, it does look like ebooks are finally gaining some traction here after initial defiance from France’s publishing industry and more traditional consumers as well as a recent law [FR] that has lead to higher overall pricing on ebooks in France vs other markets.
Although it’s still very early days, distributors of ebooks and ereaders must be breathing a sigh of relief that it looks like all of the energy and investment they’ve put into the French market may finally start paying off.