Bookstores: A solid birth rate

Launches, shutdowns, and revival. Livres Hebdo deciphers such movements that marked 2017 and that emphasize the increasing professionalism of endeavors that were developed by independent bookstores.

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Les Rebelles ordinaires in La Rochelle, La mouette Rieuse and La Phare in Paris, BD avenue in Bordeaux, Les Lisières in Croix, Les Grandes Largeurs in Arles.. These independent bookstores are one of the most emblematic amongst the 37 founded in France in 2017, which were spotted by Livres Hebdo. These demonstrate the continued positive growth of the sector, while, at the same time, 23 closures were detected through 2017, including some historic bookstores such as Tirloy in Lille, Camugli in Lyon et Le Môle in Saint-Malo, and even younger ones la jeune Librairie in Port à Calais. That said, the specialized BD Album in Paris awaits to close down its shutters, early January.

These data, though not exhaustive, have to be treated with caution, even more so as the closures are tougher to detect. This lot of birth and expiry nonetheless demonstrates that book business is still breathing. The number of creations of such independent bookstores in 2017 is one of the highest in recent years, after the record in 2016: 40 ascertained launches, as opposed to 30 in 2015 and 2014, 22 in 2010 and just 15 in 2006. The number of closures that were spotted during the same duration continues to be at 20 per year.

Professionalization

In spite of the lack of precise statistics (One can always mix up account closure and the physical closure of a bookstore), data distributors do confirm the dynamic nature of the bookstore in France. Marc Dalby, head of sales and distribution at Actes Sud, opines that, “There has been a resurgence in bookstore launches and the positive trend in their demographic.” Cyril Vachon, commercial head of CED, estimates intuitively that the number of bookstore launches is a little higher to that of closures, when these two have seemingly attained equilibrium. Guillaume Bugaud from Pollen, manager of sales administration, declares around 200 account openings in 2017, compared to 180 in 2016, 190 in 2015, and 220 in 2014. A figure that is stable, largely due to founding of smaller generalist structures, and lesser so due to those bookstores that are specialized for a younger public.

Contesting the perception that there would be fewer bookstores, Alain Armand, head of sales (2nd level) at Madrigall, is dispassionate on such evolutions. “The number of account openings, being 200 in 2017 is nearly stable. If we deduct the acquisitions, the account creations still represent more than half of the figure, with many smaller sales outlets having a surface area lower than 60m2. But behind the quantitative, what I observe is the professionalization of the newcomers,” emphasizes Alain Armand.

For new bookstores, the comic section remains the sector that is most attractive. Amongst the 37 newly ascertained bookstores, a quarter are specialized in comics. Bruno Fermier, delegate general of the consortium Canal BD, that provides tools and consultation to its adherents , observes “ That among the 23 adhesions that we registered in 2017, around 15 come from bookstores created this year.”

Emerging blended concepts of business such as bookstores-exhibitions, bookstore-creative hobbies, books-toys and games, bookstore-café, bookstore-restaurants, bookstore-coworking demonstrate not only an entrepreneurial strategy to widen their margin but also their wish to conceive feel good convivial spaces where people can meet. Many bookstores such as Les Rebelles ordinaires in La Rochelle, Les Gens qui doutent in Limoges, Lumière d’août in Marseille ou L’Instant in Paris, offer a café corner.

Getting closer and closer

On the map, many new creations come up in big cities such as Paris, Lyon or Rennes. However, new bookstores are multiplying more and more, in smaller cities, with many initiatives working on gearing up a comeback towards local consummation and being in the vicinity. L’Attrape Plume opened in a small commune of Dorlisheim (Bas-Rhin), les Jolis Mots in Vivonne (Vienne), Le Kairn in Arras-en-Lavedan (Hautes-Pyrénées). Amongst the launches, BD Avenue in Bordeaux and La librairie des Marquises in Arcachon stand out by the enormity of their sales area, being in the order of 900m2, even if, taking into account the spaces that are reserved for restaurants, the book section does not go beyond 400m2. However, one is still far from the reach and size of giant bookstores, like l’Intranquille, opened in 2015 in Besançon on an area of 1200m2, with 80000 references or even le Forum Arts and Livres, created in 2016 in Mouans-Sartoux.

No major closures

The past year nonetheless has not been witness to any spectacular downing of shutters, none whatsoever fraught with symbolic significance, like the closure of La Hune in 2015 and especially Virgin and Chapitre in 2013 and 2014. Sauramps et Sauramps Odysée in Montpellier and Gilbert Jeune in Paris managed to escape closure thanks to their revival, after a while in judicial settlement. The disappearances were chiefly concerned with smaller endeavours mired with financial difficulties or the retirement of their manager, and whose feeble potential did not really invite any motivation for revival.

“After major concerns in relation to the closure of brands like Virgin and Chapitre, one notices that, on the contrary, there has not been resurgence in closures of the independent ones, nor any dry-up in new launches,” observes Guillaume Bugaud. Moreover, new sources of participative financing like crowd funding, increasingly seen in bookstores, have facilitated launches that would not have been possible otherwise.

In spite of commercial vulnerability, the vocation of bookstore keeps its aura intact. It attracts entrepreneurs from other walks of life, in addition to the employed booksellers who strive to become independent. As an example to the former, Nicole Zagouri, ex financial head of Medium and Small Scale Enterprises, Josig Amal, ex-animator for children, or Karine Depeyre, ex-caretaker of a resort, who all changed tracks this year to launch new endeavors, namely, Le Phare in Paris, Bulles & jeunesse! in Vitré and Le Kairn in Arrasen-Lavaudan respectively. As for the latter, Sandrine Ziri, ex-bookseller at Atout Livre or Emilie Pautus, ex co-director at La Manoeuvre, founded L’Utopie in Paris and Les Grandes Largeurs in Aries, respectively.

Recourse to National Training Institute for Bookstores (l’INFL)

As for the revival initiatives, a number of data distributors and business managers express joy at the large professionalization of these endeavors. Of course, some initiatives do invite skepticism, notably those financed by crowd funding. However, even the projects initiated by novices show a rational vision of the profession that owes itself to accelerated training sessions at the INFL, and a few times, to the hiring of a salaried professional. “Today, the people who open accounts are more realistic about the vocation, and the issues involved in it,” states Marc Dalby. “Keen to sustain the project, they are well aware of the importance of efficiency of management.” Now, it is up to the new chiefs to prove themselves on the long term.

Acquisitions: A year of transition

2017 saw fewer acquisitions of bookstores than 2016, but the year was witness to the buyouts of Gilbert Jeune and Sauramps.

“Finalizing the selloff of Auréole in Auray, and that of Bulles in stock in Amiens, even if we manage to find an agreement before the 31st of December,” precises Quentin Tissot, one of the two potential buyers. 2017, the year that was one of the most conducive in the decade to favour creation and opening of new bookstores, did not leave much scope for increased acquisitions. Livres Hebdo ascertained around 26 acquisitions, against 32 in 2016. “It’s an intermediate phase and year, marked by a majority of buyouts of small and medium bookstores,” confirms Thierry Auger, Bookstore in-charge at the National Centre for Books (CNL), that has supported 12 projects. “Yet, size remains an issue. If the acquisitions represent a third of dossiers, they occupy half of the credits allocated.” 2017, that was marked by fewer acquisition, however was the year that saw the two most remarkable buyouts post judicial procedures. Gilbert Jeune (Paris) and Sauramps (Montpellier) were saved, each within a month’s interval. The former was bought out by its cousin and close neighbour, Gilbert Joseph. This is a strong symbolic move, as both the brands were one till 1929. The new ensemble, which includes the two largest Parisian Bookstores, totals around 154 million euros as turnover, of which 114 comes from books.

As for Sauramps, which has five sales outlets of which one of them features amongst the biggest bookstores in the country, the solution came from outside. After six months of back and forth, the group from Montpellier was bought out by the real estate society, Amétis, which is developing an ambitious project to attain, from now till the end of 2018, a turnover of 25 million euros per year, for an overall investment of 6 to 7 million euros. Atypical in terms of their size and stakes, these acquisitions sont nonetheless representative of the process at work all across the territory. Half of these 26 bookstores acquired were bought by other existing and/or bookstore brands or chains, such as Deloche in Montauban, Le Marquepage in Saint-Marcellin in ex-Gladieux in Paris, revived by Marija Méresse, who works for 14 years in the corporate. The other half was taken over by cadres that were changing career paths, like Pierre Lenganey (automobile industry) for Passage in Alençon, Thomas Berrond (teacher) for la Librairie des Bauges in Albertville or Catherine Grosjean (documentalist) for Nicod in Valentingney.

Acquisitions of specialized bookstores (that accounts for a little more than a quarter of the entire gamut), follow the same model. Some of them involve emblematic brands such as Aladin in Nantes, one of the oldest bookstores specializing in comics, La Luciole in Angers and Rev’en pages in Limoges (children’s collections), for which a revival, constituted this summer, came as a nearly unexpected boon.

©livreshebdo. Text: Clarisse Normand and Cécile Charonnat; translation: Anand Balasubramaniam. First published in Livre Hebdo, issue 1154 (15 December 2017).

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