Great Britain

French bookshops ask to be treated as essential services during new lockdown

French authors, booksellers and publishers are imploring the French government to allow bookshops to stay open because reading is “essential”, as the country enters a national four-week lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.

France’s second lockdown, announced on Wednesday evening by president Emmanuel Macron, begins at midnight on Thursday. Macron said he hoped it would put a “brutal brake” on the infection rate, as France is “submerged by the acceleration of the spread of the virus”. All non-essential businesses, including bars and restaurants, are to close, while individuals will require sworn declarations to leave home.

But in a joint statement, France’s publishers’ association, the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE), joined with its booksellers’ association, the Syndicat de la Librairie Française (SLF), and authors’ group, the Conseil Permanent des Ecrivains (CPE), in a call for bookshops to remain open alongside supermarkets and pharmacies.

France has more than 3,000 independent bookshops, and the trade associations pointed to an “extraordinary appetite for reading among the French”, particularly over recent months.

“Leave our bookstores open so that social confinement does not also become cultural isolation,” they write. “Our readers, who love independent bookstores, would not understand it and would experience it as an injustice … books satisfy our need for understanding, reflection, escape, distraction, but also sharing and communication.”

Lire, c’est vivre,” they say: reading is living.

The first French lockdown saw bookshops closed, with the majority also suspending online orders in order to protect staff, customers and delivery services. On Wednesday, one of Paris’s most famous bookshops, Shakespeare and Company, said it had seen an 80% decline in sales since March, and appealed to customers for help as it faces “hard times”.

While the closures earlier in the year “wounded the book industry to the heart”, shops were now prepared and “perfectly able to welcome readers in a new lockdown, in safe and proven sanitary conditions … We are ready to assume our cultural and health responsibilities.”

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