I read an interesting post about efforts in France to protect independent bookstores. And as much as I want to applaud, because I mourn the loss of independent neighborhood bookstores and want to like any efforts to protect them, I find that I can’t. It began with legislation that made it illegal In France to discount a book by more than 5% off its retail price. The idea, apparently, was to prevent the large chain stores from cutting prices to a point where the indie bookstores would be unable to compete. And now, with the success of amazon, the French legislature has made it illegal to offer free shipping on the purchase of books. And somehow it all just feels wrong to me.
I do not pretend to have intimate knowledge of French shopping habits, so I find myself looking at the issue from an American perspective. I mourn the loss of indie bookstores, but also indie hardware stores, indie grocers (indie butchers and bakers and candlestick makers). I mourn the shift from neighborhood shops on Main Street in favor of shopping malls and superstores and now internet marketplaces. But the change has been happening for nearly seventy years and it is not a simple matter of retail price or shipping costs. It is the result of shifting demographics about where people live, about how people shop, about highways and automobiles, about cities and suburbs. There is a reason why we promote Small Business Saturday, why we need to promote Small Business Saturday.
I have no animus for Home Depot, but I miss the neighborhood hardware store. I miss the indie bookstores that have already closed. I hope that the remaining neighborhood bookstores survive. Actually, I hope they do more than survive; I hope they thrive. But preventing their competitors from offering customers a better deal doesn’t feel right to me. And to be honest, I don’t think it will work. Because the considerations are as much sociological as economic.