Amazon is scary, but it’s the supermarkets that are hurting bookstores

You might think, as I haven’t in a long time, that Amazon has devoured the book market or that if it hasn’t yet, the days of nearby bookstores are numbered with his fault. But that’s not what the numbers say. Of course, the independent bookstore sector is not at its best. But that didn’t date from today either.

The heyday of the profession dates back to 1878. France at that time had more than 6,000 libraries, including 5,000 libraries in the provinces for a population of 26 million. That was about a century and a half ago. Today, France has 3,200 libraries for 67 million people, and the blow to these bookstores in recent years owes little to Amazon. Its market share increased from 32% in 1994 to 27% in 2006 but only from 24.5% in 2008 to 22% today.

However, during this last period, which was marked by a very slight decrease in bookstores (-2.5%), Internet sales literally spread, rising from 9.6% in 2008 to more than 20% today. The main victims of this rise in the power of e-commerce? Mail order, book clubs, press houses and big chains like Virgin or Chapitre.

Hence the question: If the library crisis, as in the United States, is not due to e-commerce, then what is the cause? Answer: GSA and GSS are the two large, specialty food stores.

The omnipresence of E.Leclerc’s cultural spaces

We’re not talking about the brand in the book sector so much as we’re talking about its fight against the cost of living. However, many bookstores in small towns and medium-sized towns owe him the closure. With 215 points of sale listed across France in 2017, E.Leclerc and its cultural spaces have become the leading French cultural brand.

These culture venues have been developed since 1990, and span an average of more than 1,000 square metres2 and linking the entire national territory. Thus it serves as a serious alternative for libraries in the city center that have to deal with low surfaces and a limited number of references.

Especially by developing cultural spaces in the shadow of supermarkets, E.Leclercs can afford the luxury of making books a simple loss leader. Success is credited to Michel-Édouard Leclerc, who knew how to make his passion for comics the powerful conquest of the library market. But as with Lidl in terms of food, its network must now contend with a formidable competitor.

With Cultura, culture spreads to the fringes

This new player has set out to revolutionize the concept of Fnac. The story goes back to June 5, 1998. On that day, in Puilboreau, not far from La Rochelle, the Cultura brand opened the first store in a long chain. At the helm of the project is Philip van der Weiss, a marriage member of the Molise family. Young businessman with a passion for literature “To make cultural and artistic leisure accessible to as many people as possible”.

his strategy? Its brands open in commercial areas located on the outskirts of cities. The idea? Take advantage of these vast gathering areas to target a new audience – and take Fnac on the wrong foot, this brand only swears by downtown signage development. consequences? With ninety-one stores spread across the territory, Cultura is now one of the most dynamic brands in the cultural sector with double-digit growth in its floor area (+18%) and number of points of sale (+16%). Although Cultura has half as many stores as Espaces Culturels Leclerc and Fnac, the average store space (2300 sq.2) equivalent to Fnac Stores and twice the size of Leclerc Cultural Spaces.

Moreover, in addition to its strong expansion strategy, Cultura also offers banking services on an extended offer: music, books, stationery, digital section, educational games, creative pastries, video, musical instruments, haberdashery… For classic libraries, it is difficult to compete with dynamism This newcomer whose motto is “Cheerful Soul”. More impressive performance as Cultura swears by integrated development.

Fnac condenses its network in small areas

In the face of the sheer existence of Leclerc’s cultural spaces and the emergence of culture, what place remains for the independents? Could their city center stores be an asset to customers? The change in strategy made by Fnac tends to show the opposite. The popular “inciter of curiosity” is moving away from city centers and has been open to franchise development since 2011.

It also created a more split view. Thus in addition to the traditional shops in the city center (2400 m2 average) and suburban facilities – Cultura-style – Fnac is now weaving its network in mid-sized cities (such as Montélimar in 2017 or Roanne in 2019) with local brands that generally have a surface area of ​​300-1,500 metres.2. These smaller brands are more attractive to franchisees. They can also turn to Fnac’s “travel” or “communication” spaces, which proliferate, particularly in stations and airports, by offering connected objects and phone calls.

So the network of Fnac stores continues to expand – it had 162 stores in France (88 full-fledged stores and 74 franchises) at the end of 2018 – with new points of sale with smaller surfaces: between 2016 and 2017, the total number of square meters of the brand grew by only 3% when the number of points of sale increased by 13%. With such a fine division of its offer, Fnac can reach a very wide audience, from city centers to suburbs, not forgetting about medium-sized cities and agglomeration areas (airports, train stations, etc.).

Amazon, relative strength

In 1994, 25% of books were sold in a supermarket (specialized and non-specialized complex) compared to 45% today. For comparison, Internet sales are for only 20% of books, half of which are taken by Amazon. The rest is provided by bookstores and supermarkets that also offer online sales – often with a click-and-collect concept allowing you to get in store what has been pre-ordered online.

Once again, if the arrival of the American giant caused a significant change in uses, it did not disturb the market. But does the fact of the numbers still matter? Amazon has become an obsession. More than just a threat, it explains all evil. Libraries sell less? It’s Amazon’s fault. Customers deserted bookstores? Don’t look, it’s ordering from Amazon. Libraries going out of business? Blame it again on Amazon.

It’s so simple, the Librairie Française (SLF) has made it a pet harasser, and has consistently denounced it. “The octopus that threatens our society”. It doesn’t matter if the end of the free mail practiced by e-commerce sites generates a mouse, at purely nominal costs as practiced by Amazon as practiced by The Amazon mania that afflicts the bookstore, like so many other sectors of the trade, stems from an irrational hatred as much as it blinds.

The day libraries almost became turkeys in a farce

While SLF focuses on Amazon, major retailers are developing their pawns. Friday October 30, 2020, Fnac has earned the right to leave its shelves open during confinement, while independent bookstores have only one right: to close. amazement! After experiencing a rebound in book sales with deconstruction, the profession discovers that major retailers will once again benefit from the shutdown of independent bookstores.

Anne Martell, head of the Sudan Liberation Front, was a little surprised. “It is a low-risk cultural activity, and it is a shame not to maintain it,” She regrets France 24. The word “too bad” matches the astonishment. Finally, a meeting in Percy will return to this decision in a few hours. But it would take little for E.Leclerc, Fnac, and all the big retailers to take advantage of this confinement to steal additional market share from freelancers.

Will libraries be able to learn from this? Will the profession end up realizing that the danger also lies, if not above all, in the ambitions of mass distribution in the book market? Or will the easy solution of making Amazon the source of all evil end up winning, thus allowing major retailers to continue their conquest with complete peace of mind? Too clever who can say it today.

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