In a side note to the otherwise upbeat NYT piece this week on how French bookstores are thriving under government subsidies and a law limiting the discounting of books, I was sad to see the offhand mention that the Village Voice bookshop, one of the great English-language shops in the city, will close this summer, the implication being that the easier availability of discounted English books left the store more vulnerable to Amazon's underpricing. Sad but I guess not surprised, since when we made it one of our high-priority stops when we finally got to visit Paris a couple of years ago, the owner herself, Odile Hellier, made the same complaint. (I didn't confess that I worked for Amazon at the time.)
My wife had made me the excellent and self-sacrificing gift of certificates at both of the city's famous English bookshops, the aggressively venerable Shakespeare and Co. and the more urbane Village Voice, and I took full advantage. I came away with a stack of books (Rupert Thompson? Jean-Claude Izzo?) but the only one I can remember for certain is Memoirs of Hadrian, about which I have waxed plenty in the past. And I took a few photos (see above), including some UK editions of American novels that I had to steel myself not to add my collection (the Lethem especially!).
About the economics of bookselling in France, I'm not sure what to say. I'm sure in some galactic sense I owe an apology to Mme. Hellier for working for the clampdown. Discounting has an obvious (or at least apparent) democratic effect, by making books more affordable, but the downstream economics are more complicated than that, and probably too complicated for me to parse. Certainly ruling out discounts allows small booksellers to compete on a more level playing field, and the effects in Paris are obvious: the place was riotous with small little shops of all kinds and specialties. It was thrilling enough to see when I couldn't read most of the books on offer, and I can just imagine what it would be like if I could. (Of course the French cult of the book long predates Jack Lang's 1981 law, so I'm not sure how much can be credited to the discount issue itself.) I also imagine that doing away with discounts would lower list prices significantly: one reason, I assume, hardcovers cost $30 is that the massive discount under which most of them will be sold is already factored in. And I expect that removing discounts would push the business more toward paperbacks rather than more expensive hardcovers, as, from my untutored glances, the French business seems to be aligned.
No doubt there are futher effects, both positive and negative, that I haven't conceived of--I'd be curious to hear from anyone with more direct experience of book buying and selling France and Germany (which I think has a similar law). The idea that we'd institute such price controls in the U.S. is so preposterous that it makes the thought experiment no more than that, but I'm glad some other countries are able to resist the monoculture enough to keep other models alive.