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Let them read books: French bookshops protest closures amid second lockdown

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A masked man walks by a bookstore in Paris, Thursday October 29, 2020.
A masked man walks by a bookstore in Paris, Thursday October 29, 2020.   -   Copyright  Lewis Joly/AP Photo
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Owners of small, independent bookshops are changing their sales methods as they decry an order to close their doors once again as France enters its second lockdown.

Many demanded the French government allow them to stay open after news hit that large retail chains would be allowed to remain open.

But those large retail chains will be unable to sell books, France's government said, after multiple independent bookstore owners said the move was not fair to their businesses.

"[Large retailers] have just closed their book sales departments. We could consider this as a small victory but what [bookstore owners] are demanding above all is the opening of independent bookshops with the total respect of preventative measures for everyone's safety," the owners of the Librairie Bulle in Mans wrote on Facebook.

After the owner, Samuel Chauveau originally said that he planned to stay open in defiance, the bookshop will now close its doors during the second lockdown.

Pierre Dutilleul, chief executive of the National Union of Editors in France, believes the government's decision is misguided and France should follow the example of other countries in Europe, such as Belgium, Germany and Austria, which have decided to keep book shops open.

He told Euronews it's important for people to be distracted during the lockdown and to have something to read. He also fears the closure of bookshops will encourage people to turn to online sites to buy books — a habit that might be difficult to change post-lockdown.

Watch the full interview with Dutilleul in the above video player.

France's most prestigious book prize the Goncourt, originally set to be announced in November, will now be delayed following the closure of bookshops.

"The Goncourt academics reaffirm their total support for bookstores that are tackling a new difficult period as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic," the prize committee said in a statement.

"In solidarity with them, the academics will not name the Goncourt prize that was set to be announced Tuesday, November 10 while bookshops remain closed."

The Goncourt prize announcement usually leads to a significant boost in book sales.

French economy minister Bruno Le Maire said the government would decide in 15 days whether small commerces will be allowed to reopen their doors during lockdown.

Independent bookstores adapt to difficult times

Shakespeare and Co., the famous English-language bookshop in Paris near the Notre-Dame Cathedral, said that its sales were down almost 80% since March.

"It is true that, like many independent businesses, we are struggling, trying to see a way forward during this time when we've been operating at a loss," the shop said in a statement on its website.

It's encouraging those who can to order from the website in support and is launching a programme for 2021 to mail parcels of books from Paris for an annual subscription.

"We are here today, almost seventy years after that first morning, because of you," the store said in a statement.

The Librairie de Passages in Lyon, meanwhile, said they would set up a counter for people to pick up book orders from Monday to Saturday during the lockdown.

They also said that they would add recommendations to the website to allow customers to discover new books within their stocks.

In Marseille, the bookshop l'Odeur du Temps, said on their Facebook page that they would sell books at the door for people passing by on their "daily walk".

Book in the Bar in Aix-en-Provence said on social media they would be able to take book delivery orders via phone or the web during the lockdown.

"We will not abandon you," a Facebook user commented on their post.