India and France: the literary and cultural exchange!

India will be the guest of honour at the Paris Book Fair 2020, while France will be guest of honour at the New Delhi World Book Fair 2022. In preparation of these events, there is an ongoing series of activities happening in both countries. AABP interacted with Vincent Montagne and Jean-Claude Perrier to know more. Extract.

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French publishing
market at a glance!

The French publishing market is worth 4 billion euros, 300 million of which represent e-books. “Overall, the French reader prefers printed books but there is still a growth in e-books sales. For consumer books, e-books represent only 3% of the market but for the B2B market and for books on law or medicine, the percentage of e-books goes up to 9%, with an annual growth of 10%. In fact, the success of an e-book is directly linked to the presence or absence of bookstores. E-books sell better where bookstores are not available nearby,” Vincent Montagne says.

“There is a genuine attachment to printed books in France: an average of 5,000 copies are printed for each book published, but real bestsellers can be printed up to 200,000 – 300,000 copies. This is the case of Houellebecq’s latest book, which will reach 400,000 printed copies,” he adds.

“Another characteristic of the French book market include the importance of the pocket book market: it represents 14% of the total turnover and 27% of copies sold. Publishing more titles each year is also a distinction of the French market. The number of copies each book is printed is hence lower today than it was ten years ago,” he adds.

“There are about 3,000 bookstores in France. All those located in city centers are working well, with an annual growth rate of 0.8% (this is a stable figure). Since 1981, the Fixed Book Price Act has also allowed these bookstores to diversify. 37 countries, including 11 European countries, are currently applying this Act,” he adds.

Talking about distribution, Vincent shares: “In France, the distribution market for books is divided between four major players. The big bookstores, which are traditional distributional channels, represent 25% of the market, while small bookstores and internet sales reach 30% altogether. Other players are very important, even if they are not dedicated to distributing books. Specialised stores selling books and cultural products make up 29% of the market. Large-scale retail also represents 16% of the market.”

Another interesting point he mentions is that of the overall book market, fiction & literature accounts for 22, 7%; educational & school books: 14,2%; humanities & social sciences: 14%; children’s books: 12,8%; lifestyle & leisure: 12,6%; comics & manga: 10,5%; non-fiction & essays : 3,8%; STM : 2,7%; art: 2,9% and others: 4%.

To which, Jean-Claude adds, “The school curriculum frequently undergoes reforms in France, especially when a new government comes in. As a result, this means new school books need to be printed, and that drives this segment of the publishing industry.”

“The French literary prize ‘Prix Goncourt’is very important for us. With translations, we can sell 1 million copies of a certain novel. For example, Leïla Slimani is a Franco-Moroccan writer and journalist. In 2016 she was awarded the Prix Goncourt for her novel Chanson Douce. She sold about one million copies and travelled all around the world for new translations,” adds Jean-Claude.

On The Paris Book Fair…

“The National Publishers Association has 700 member publishers. In 1981, we launched our book fair, which is now called Livre Paris (Paris Book Fair). It is the largest public book fair in Europe, with over 200,000 visitors. It is as much a festival as a professional event. We have approximately 1200 publishers and 3200 authors present. The authors get to interact with their readers while at the same time we have about 300 round tables over 4 days on all topics pertaining to the book world,” Vincent says.

Vincent was elected as the President around 10 years ago and launched the international vision of the book fair. “When we started, we had 15 countries participating at the book fair. Now, we have 60 countries and for many years we have been inviting a country as guest of honour. We have had an increased number of foreigners visiting our fair and have noticed an increase in translations. We have doubled the number of translations from French to other languages from 2006 to 2018., to reach 15,000 translations every year. Many books get now translated into Chinese and we wish to do a lot of translations into Indian languages as well,” he adds.

At the Paris Book Fair 2020 (March 14-18, 2020), India will be guest of honour. “Book fairs act as a platform for cultural exchange. We don’t want to only invite books from India, we want to invite India. This means the pavilion from India will bring Indian culture, books, people, food and all that will help us develop the flavour of India in France. This is very important, as it’s like an experience of India for French people. They will want to know more about India, about its books, its authors, its culture, its heritage, and even want to visit the country,” Vincent says.

Vincent Montagne is President-Director General of Media Participations and President of the Syndicat Nationale de l’Edition. In addition to this, he is a descendent of Edouard Michelin, founder of the Michelin group. In 2009, he became the President of Mage-Invest, the family holding company and Vice President of Michelin’s general partner, the SAGES (Jean-Dominique Senard, President of Michelin’s Management Board, is also a General Partner).He is an Officer of the Legion of Honour, Commander of the Arts and Letters and Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great.

Books: beyond boundaries

“From past experience, we can say that once a foreign book is published in French, it gets more of a chance to gettranslated into Japanese, Italian, etc. European publishers come to Paris and are very attentive to what happens here. Thus, an author who comes to the Paris fair gets more recognition in Europe, not only in France. Our focus is that Paris should become a hub for Indian literature to spread to Europe and the world,” Jean-Claude adds.

“The French Embassy, SNF and the French Institute in India, we all are working together to make Indian participation the best. We are motivating the French publishers for speedy translations. It is a challenge to get books translated from regional Indian languages. Four or five authors will get translated from Indian languages, the rest will be from English.”

Role of CNL…

The role of CNL for translation is very important. CNL has commissions to help publications of books — fiction, nonfiction, history, essay etc. Organized by discipline, the commissions are made up of more than 200 independent specialists named for a three-year term by the Ministry of Culture, on the recommendation of the CNL President. Writers, scholars, journalists, researchers, artists, translators, critics, publishers, booksellers, curators, and literary figures generally gather three times a year to consider requests for funding, loans, or grants, to provide funding attribution recommendations to the President of the CNL.

“For our operation India-2022, CNL has decided to increase the grant for translations from Indian languages (primarily English) to French,” Jean-Claudeadds.

Protecting French bookstores…

“The role of the government in France has been essential to encourage the survival of bookshops. In 1981, France launched a fixed price for books. This important initiative has been protecting existing bookstores,as well as encouraging the opening of new bookshops for the past 30 years. The market nowadays is a little tense. It’s a global trend, as retail space rental increases,” Vincent admits.

Protecting the rights of the authors…

“Our distribution works well; we work on a book-tracking system to enable information sharing between book stores, publishers and authors. If we have more rapid information on sales, it helps us make better decisions about the print runs and also to understand better the rate of return of books, which is very important because of the tremendous costs involved and also to inform authors about their own sales. We are on the way to a better system of book tracking. With the help of the private company GFK, in the next 5 years, authors and publishers will have instant information online about the sales of their books. This is a very positive move and well appreciated by authors as it is a very transparent system,” shares Vincent.

Other initiatives…

“One of the challenges is to encourage reading early on in life. In June 2012, we launched The Little Champions of Reading for the promotion of books and reading among children. Its members are representatives of the entire book chain: publishers, librarians, booksellers, local elected officials in charge of culture. Children in CM2 classes (11-12 years) are invited to read in public a short text of their choice for a maximum of 3 minutes, taken from a fictional work. The game is organised in four stages: the best player of a group participates in a second stage at the local level, then a regional semi-final on the internet and, for 14 finalists, in a big national final at the Comédie-Française, in the presence of the writers” Vincent explains.

“We are working on increasing the number of students to 100,000. The same programme has been launched in Germany and Holland. This is very effective and easy to implement and I think it would work well in India too.”

On a concluding note…

“I think reading in Hindi should be made more popular. Very few young readers read in Hindi, but with the right focus, it can be possible,” Vincent states.

Jean-Claude Perrier has devoted many of his books to India and the Indo-French literary connection. As a literary critic, journalist, author and widely-experienced traveller, he is writing extensively for literary press (Le Figaro Littéraire, Livres Hebdo, Le Magazine littéraire). He is a specialist of André Malraux, André Gide, Henri Michaux and some less known writers as Jack Thieuloy, whom he has recently published an anthology.

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