Ici Librairie’s owners Anne-Laure Vial and Delphine Bouétard are trade veterans who met while working at now-closed Virgin Megastore in Paris.
They say that experience has given them three key strategies to succeed: a large floor area (500m2) with 40,000 books arranged in modular style with mobile furniture to make comfortable customer areas; an in-store speciality cafe; and regular author events to make it a centre of cultural life in the area around Boulevard Poissonnière.
Ms Vial said she is “delighted and very excited that our dream is finally reality.”
Between 2011 and 2014, however, Paris lost one in 10 of its bookshops.
Across France they are often few and far between, with supermarkets such as Leclerc often the only booksellers – if the store has a “media” section.
It is not all bad news. In Paris, La Hune – founded in 1949 and key to the “Left Bank spirit” – reopened in November following renovation after a fire.
Brentano’s, opened in 1895 near l’Opéra, specialises in English language books, usually from US publishers. It shut in 2009 before reopening with a smaller area for books.
Manager Bruno Giambona said: “We have had to adapt and are no longer a pure bookshop.
“Books occupy just 60m2 out of 200, and we only survive thanks to sales of stationery, cards, and souvenirs.”
He admitted the accountants wanted to end book sales.
“Here, in Paris on the main shopping streets, rents have shot up due to demand from groups and chain stores which you find everywhere in Europe,” he said.
“There are few independent shops and the 6% margin on books, if you are lucky, is not enough to sell on their own.”
In Poitiers, similar pressures of high rents, increasing staff costs and online competition bear down on the town centre’s only remaining bookshop, La Belle Aventure.
Owner Christine Drugmant set up a cooperative to try to ensure its future after she retires. She likes “the joining of clients, employees, publishers, suppliers and local associations and authorities around this love of solid paper books”.
She said: “French people love books and created, thanks to laws from [1980s minister] Jack Lang over pricing, a system unique for the number and diversity of books published. But, unless something is done, a key part, the independent librairie, will be a thing of the past. We need to unite people around books.”
Not all regional bookshops are at risk.
A key factor is whether they own their premises – as is the case with Mollat in Bordeaux, which covers 2,700m2 over several stores in the city centre but also has a large and active online business.
The Salle des Machines bookshop in Marseille is in a co-operative of associations working in an old tobacco factory site seeking to improve the area.
Sitting above an upmarket cafe, it is now going strong and is a key part of the project.
Lang’s Law has kept stores going
Prices of new books in France are governed by law, with the Loi Lang (named after 1980s culture minister Jack Lang) saying that publishers set the price and this cannot be discounted by more than 5%.
Similar arrangements exist elsewhere and, until the 1990s, the UK had the Net Book Agreement. The Loi Lang is exceptional for the level of government involvement and it has survived many legal challenges in European courts.
Initially seen as good for independent bookshops, as it stops aggressive pricing from large chains, it led to a large increase in the number and variety of publishers.
But it is now criticised because publisher prices are too low and the average 6% profit margin is not enough when taxes and shop rents have shot up.