Three booksellers from different parts of the world accompanied EIBF team to the national conference for booksellers in France
Les Rencontres Nationales (RNL) de la Librairie is a biennial conference dedicated entirely to bookselling and booksellers organised by the Syndicat de la Librairie Française (SLF). This year the RNL took the participants to the bustling city of Angers in western France to discuss bookselling post COVID-19, sustainability solutions for the sector, and the future for the bookselling profession, among many other topics.
EIBF Director Julie Belgrado and EIBF Policy Assistant Tora Åsling were joined by Marianne Reiner, bookseller at La Playa Books in San Diego, USA, Olaf Tigchelaar, bookseller at Kramer & van Doorn in Zeist, the Netherlands, and Oana Dobosi, bookseller at La Două Bufniţe in Timisoara, Romania, in Angers for this exciting event. Keep reading to hear their impressions from these days full of new encounters and insights.
WELCOMING EVENT and BOOKSHOP CRAWL
On the second day of July, as RNL attendants were arriving to a sunny and warm Angers in anticipation of the upcoming conference, ten Angevine bookshops opened up their doors to showcase their diverse offer of books, share their passion for bookselling, and taste a glass of wine from local vineyards around the Loire valley. Instead of a traditional pub crawl, the Association des librairies indédependantes en Pays de la Loire (ALIP) in partnership with the bookshops of Angers, invited RNL guests to discover Angers through an innovative and immersive “bookshop crawl”. Meeting new colleagues among the bookshelves of Angers was a delightful experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
After a small breakfast and warm welcoming by SLF, participants were thrown straight into business with presentation of several studies on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on bookshops, French people’s reading habits, and statistics from the French book market. Confronted with diminishing number of readers, booksellers could still seek comfort in the fact that the French reported a strong attachment to their local bookshops. This high esteem seems to be a reflection of why bookshops in France were considered essential during the pandemic.
Later, French minister for Culture, Rima Abdul Malak, joined the conference. “France is a country of readers,” she said and emphasised the important role bookshops hold in society. Moreover, she thanked French booksellers for their collaboration in introducing the cultural pass, which is a project aiming to motivate young people to read by providing them with a voucher charged with a sum of money to spend exclusively on cultural activities and goods, such as books.
Panel: The future of consumption
RISE participant, Marianne Reiner, originally from France but now working as a bookseller in the USA, shared her insights about the daily life of American booksellers with her French colleagues. She talked about bookshops as cultural hubs, and how they can benefit more than one business, for instance by hosting author events at the coffee shop next door.
The panel also discussed the rise of digital giants, which in France are often referred to as the GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft). Coming from the US, where Amazon’s virtual monopoly of the online market is a real burden to independent booksellers, Marianne implored her French colleagues to take stock of the situation and act quickly against the threat the giant multinational platform poses to their market.
Panel: Sustainable bookselling – examples from abroad
It is not an understatement to say that climate change was one of the most prioritised topics of this year’s edition of the RNL. Its importance was underlined in many panels, not the least in the panel moderated by EIBF Director Julie Belgrado on sustainability initiatives in bookselling from abroad. The roundtable explored climate initiatives in Quebec and the French speaking world, as well as in the Nordic countries.
As an example, EIBF’s Policy Assistant Tora Åsling brought up the Swedish project, “the climate intiative,” which is a cooperative project between the Swedish Booksellers association, Publishers association, online retailers and streaming services aiming to once and for all map out the environmental imprint of the entire sector. The idea is that, in the face of the current climate crisis, the book sector needs to set competition aside and fight climate change together to be able to succeed in decreasing their environmental imprint.
Panel: Dissemination and distribution, are there other possible models?
In a panel featuring booksellers from Quebec, Germany, and the Netherlands, three different kinds of distribution systems were examined and discussed. For instance, Olaf Tigchelaar, explained how the Dutch centralised system allows for 24-hour deliveries.
Closing panel: Bookshop, “I love you, me neither…”
The closing panel gathered a roundtable of experienced booksellers discussing bookselling as a profession vacillating between passion and pressure, pleasure and exhaustion, recognition and disrepute. RISE participant, Oana Dobosi explained how the love of bookselling led her to become creative during the pandemic, e.g., by inventing a new business model and selling “books to go” through her shop window, hosting story times for the young audience via zoom, and starting a website to keep her business going and connecting with customers.
And that was it! Two days filled with discussions, interactions, and learning that left many booksellers with a head full of ideas as they went back home. On behalf of RISE Bookselling, we give our warmest thanks to our bookseller guests and SLF for hosting us.