Booksellers against multinationals.

Sur ce qui précipite l'aliénation du diffuseur de presse indépendant

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Some people go there every day, others less often, but small booksellers are part of our social landscape. For how long? Faced with the monopolistic position of the press distributor AMP, which regulates, as a master, those it delivers, the bankruptcies of small booksellers follow one another. They will not be replaced, and if they are, it is highly likely that it will be by press distributors belonging to the same group as the MPAs — the Lagardère group. Description of the organized death of a profession and the concentration it allows.

The independent booksellers(1) are closing store, little by little, following the wave of colonization which transforms grocery stores into GB Express and record shops into Fnac(2). Some resist. Others, still present, already have their heads elsewhere.  » In three months, it will be six years since we set up shop, » says Alexandre. On the wall, to the right of the counter, a poster of « Tous au Larzac(3) « , next to a shelf offering different titles: Fakir, La Décroissance, and other Sarkophage. The shoppers follow each other, they call each other by their first name, Janne anticipates the requests of the regulars. Behind the counter, the couple makes people forget that they are customers. It’s because, deep down, they are also something else. Here the human exchange takes precedence, it breathes camaraderie and simplicity.

They had plans to expand to make an exchange corner and an additional floor with a stock in order to develop a local online ordering activity… These projects are stopped. « The lack of collective intelligence in the sector is such that we have to assume everything, starting with the risk. We will not reinvent a sector alone. In these conditions, we pause… time to breathe a little « . And then,  » time passes and our children grow up, we have no time for family ». « My parents are getting older, my father has Parkinson’s « adds Alexandre. Behind these human realities lies the difficulty of combining a professional activity with a family life, of mastering the passing of time without merging with it, so as not to discover , as Thoreau said,  » when I die, that I have not lived(4) .

Bad luck? No! All this is part of an economic structure whose characteristics make individuals more dependent and prevent them from enjoying time off work. In the neighborhood, which has gradually become a commercial area, houses sell for a minimum of 500,000 euros. On the main street, it’s more like double. As a result, small businesses cannot survive. When the old ones leave, those who at the time were able to buy a house and make a business there when the prices were still affordable, remain the only ones who can match the market prices: Quick, Ici Paris Xl, Belgacom, Olivier Dachkin, Carrefour, Photo Hall, Léonidas, Exki, Club, Colruyt, … the district becomes a landmark of branches of multinationals We are here, but we could be elsewhere. All places become standardized and interchangeable. Places dedicated to the only commercial exchange, without any more social anchoring.

The « small » ones who decide to stay are locked into a financial dependency that makes alternative choices hazardous, if not impossible. The desire to live by working less, differently, to diversify activities, cannot be realized and leaves room for resignation or departure. And then, adds Alexandre,  » I’m sick of working for Lagardère. AMP, whose main shareholder is the Lagardère Group, through its subsidiary Lagardère Services(5)This means that the company works for the majority of publishers and therefore distributes all their titles, concluding exclusivity agreements with them that prevent the bookseller from being supplied by another. The issue of exclusivity is the subject of a procedure before the competition auditorate. Other proceedings are also underway against MPAs (more on this in the next issue).

AMP is the leading distributor of national and international press in Belgium, distributing nearly 5,000 daily newspapers and periodicals in more than 6,000 points of sale throughout Belgium. It employs 800 people and has a turnover of 558 million euros. The quasi-monopolistic position of the group headed by Arnaud Lagardère, whom Sarkozy publicly considered a « brother », makes resistance very difficult: if the bookseller refuses the distributor’s injunction, he no longer receives the newspapers and magazines he distributes, and then loses customers.

This quasi-monopoly is shamelessly exploited by the MPAs to ensure the extension of their boss’s group. For more than two years, Alexandre has been filming all unsold items since the AMP decided to equip itself with a system — Axon — for automatic detection of titles and quantities returned, i.e. unsold items.  » Very quickly, the booksellers realized that the quantities written on the unsold goods slips did not correspond to the statement they credited us with after checking our merchandise with Axon. There were errors, almost systematically to the disadvantage of the booksellers. Another bookseller, Brahim(6), adds:  » when it comes to miscounting unsold goods, they are the ones who are right. It is necessary to argue, to explain, all that in writing, one loses a crazy time « . Paying for unaccounted for goods costs money.  » Let’s say we receive 50 magazines, we sell 40 and therefore we return 10. The taxman should tax us on 40 but if the AMP lost 3, the AMP will credit 7 and so the taxman will tax us on 43 « . At the end of the year, this represents significant amounts. « The unsold goods department is the cause of a lot of bankruptcies.

It’s the law of the strongest, move along! There’s nothing to see. File a complaint?  » It’s been done, but they have the best lawyers. And then,  » if you annoy them too much, they will find « mistakes ». Last time, they told me that I had forgotten a bin, resulting in 15 euros plus VAT to pay. It was not true, but impossible to prove it since they have the last word « . Without a full day’s supply, » adds Carine, « it’s a big loss of income, if, for example, they forget about La Libre on Saturday. The ideal way to lodge a complaint is therefore to no longer be a bookseller: « We will lodge a complaint two weeks before we withdraw. People are afraid, they are scared. From time to time a bookseller wins but he doesn’t dare tell the others ». The fear! Fear of testifying, of saying out loud everything that is wrong… of breaking the law of false consensus.

Faced with a two-tiered justice system where the zeros on the lawyer’s bill largely determine the outcome of a trial, the struggle remains?  » In the past, we wanted to boycott the sale of streetcar cards because we only received 1% of the sale price. There was a core of resistance but it was too small. It is not basically an individualistic choice, but living conditions that determine this: who will pay the rent at the end of the month, the debts, fill the fridge? There will be no unity of the booksellers because their condition of existence will not allow them « . What about MPA? It puts pressure on but does not suffer from it. « It can go bankrupt without any problem because everything is rented. The bosses can get rid of the workers overnight.

What this evolution marks above all is the progression of a model where the commodification of relationships becomes total.  » Before, we knew the people who worked at the AMP, there was a human contact ‚ » explains Carine, who has been living with Brahim since the 1990s. The death of the human relationship, a form of which is visible in the distribution of the press in supermarkets, is the continuation of the commodification of relationships, including professional relationships. We are witnessing the ultimate depersonalization of human relations, with everyone having to be motivated only by profit, relegating their responsibility to impersonal and often unreachable hierarchical heights. The independent bookseller, when he calls the AMP to report a problem, is faced with an interchangeable telephone operator, who cannot make any decision, but above all who is unable to establish a human relationship with the bookseller but maintains the logic of the commercial exchange. The manager of a Relay or a Press Shop, a Lagardère Group outlet, whom the latter can fire at will according to its needs, will tell us when we present Kairos that he cannot make any choice, this decision being that of the MPAs. Even at independent bookstores,  » they often decide which titles we should receive.

The defection of independent booksellers, those among whom one can still find a few heretics, those resistants of plutocratic evolutionism, nevertheless advances the monopolistic hold of the multinationals on the whole press sector. Lagardère is active in the electronic publishing and book sectors (Dunod, Hachette, Stock, Le Livre de Poche, etc.), in the press (Elle, Paris-Match, Le Journal du dimanche, etc.), radio (Virgin Radio, Europe 1, etc.), television and audiovisual production (Julie Lescaut, Joséphine Ange Gardien, the Cousteau catalogue, the film Cyrano de Bergerac and Le Hussard sur Toit, etc.), as well as in the media industry.) television, audiovisual production (Julie Lescaut, Joséphine Ange Gardien, the Cousteau catalog, the film Cyrano de Bergerac or Le Hussard sur le Toit, …) as well as in the digital sector (See the organization chart of the Lagardère empire). It also owns advertising agencies and press distribution services, such as Relay. To control the different levels of the press — publishing, diffusion, distribution — is to ensure control over thought by choosing what people read, see and hear. When the critical journals that sharpen the thinking can no longer be distributed anywhere, their battle will be won. Then there will be only their raking press, their indecent and filthy advertisements, their press where information is only a pretext.

The problem concerns 4.500 families of self-employed and should therefore be reported in the daily newspapers or on the main television channels. However, except for a bill in the Echo and a debate in trompe-l’oeil in the Parliament of the French Community, whose will to oppose the commodification of culture is well known, nothing has been said. The bookseller [Alexandre] has contacted the RTBF, which told him in a politically correct way « to be sensitive to the situation of the press distributors « , but hastened to add: « your fight is not televisual ». One wonders what a  » television battle  » is for the channel? A red herring that expresses all the heaviness of channels subjected to the diktat of ratings, advertising and, ultimately, Lagardère and its friends.

Anti-productivism necessarily involves denouncing multi-activity consortiums like Lagardère. The maintenance of independent press distributors is linked to the durability of an alternative press, notably anti-productivist. The struggle implies that one can live from one’s profession while taking advantage of time off work, but also that sociability is restored, that is to say, that the human element is put back into the profession. This will necessarily involve the disappearance of these omnipotent and omnipresent multinationals, such as the Lagardère Group.

Otherwise, the future will have only one outlet that our bookseller friend sees coming:  » we are heading towards the unique model of the big stores, the online sale, the end of the human contact. If they continue, they will kill all the small booksellers. Where I used to live, there were four booksellers, now there is only one « .

Alexandre Penasse

Notes et références
  1. Qu’on préférera nommer ainsi dans cet article, mais que l’on appelle aussi parfois « vendeurs de presse ».
  2. Evolution qui, malgré la perpétuation des diverses grandes surfaces et autres mégacentres, répond en fait à une demande du public d’un retour au commerce de proximité.
  3. Un film de Christian Rouaud, retraçant la lutte longue et courageuse des insurgés du Larzac contre l’extension du camp militaire.
  4. Henri David Thoreau, Walden ou la vie dans les bois, Editions Gallimard, 1922.
  5. Présent aux Etats-Unis, au Canada, en Allemagne, en Pologne, en Espagne, en Europe Centrale, en Suisse et en France.
  6. Les prénoms de Brahim et Carine sont des prénoms d’emprunt, ces libraires craignant des représailles commerciales des AMP.
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