5 Key Questions And 5 Urgent Air Bubbles To Revive Independent Children’s Publishing At Risk

This article is a (rough) translation into English of RUE DU MONDE’s appeal which you can read in French HERE.


5 key questions and 5 urgent air bubbles to revive independent children’s publishing at risk.

The situation is violent for the fragile link in the book chain that we are. Figures suggest that Rue du monde is heading towards a 30 to 40% drop in book sales in 2020, like most of our colleagues. The booksellers and publishers independent from the major groups were already hanging on by a thread! For authors and illustrators, lonely workers who often live only thanks to class activities, cancelled, trade fairs, deprogrammed and many editorial projects, now postponed, it is almost like a desert. It’s also a very hard time for the printers we work with (so as not to manufacture 10,000 kilometers away); their machines, too, have had to shut up.

And yet these frail links in the independent book chain are the strength of French publishing, especially in children’s literature. It offers a fabulous showcase of talent. A swarm of audacity and diversity that makes creators from all over the world dream, even though our country is seriously ignoring it. How are we going to save this source of invention in words and images?

Under the impact of the heavy ball of virus that our little houses are taking in the middle of the frontage, questions are being asked to avoid demolition:

  1. 1. April’s revenues are at zero and short-time work has still not been paid for the month of March. With no income for two months, probably more, how are we going to finance the next projects, which are essential for the return of curious eyes in the bookshops?

2. With all the doubts about restarting sales “as before”, how are small publishers going to manage not to cut jobs in their teams of 3 or 4 employees?

3. How can we continue our efforts to maintain, in our inventories and catalogue, the titles in the backlist with low annual sales (which are not necessarily the least good ones…), despite the additional costs that this entails each year?

4. How are small publishers going to have enough cash flow to pay the 2019 royalties to authors, manage to pay each of their bills, not stop communicating to make their programs known, not withdraw into themselves?

5. How will the network of booksellers not only emerge unscathed but also become denser? We need it to expand in many territories, to get closer to potential readers…

I could write pages… It’s our anxieties of every day and every night. But I want to focus my thoughts on a few hopes. So here are some proposals. They aim at urgently reviving independent children’s publishing in great difficulty, far beyond the help of circumstances or the kindly credit offers from banks. What if we were to catch the wave and dream higher in the years to come?

Five bubble proposals:

  1. 1. We need a vast public plan for the acquisition of books. Exceptional envelopes allocated by the regions to high schools to buy recent books; and by the Departmental Councils, to the libraries of middle schools and to the Departmental Libraries that irrigate the territories.

2. Closest to children, mayors have the keys to town libraries and schools. It is particularly important to stop this regular erosion which each year gnaws away at the budgets for acquisitions and activities in more and more media libraries. Local elected representatives have a decisive role to play to ensure that reading in their town is a celebration that excludes no one. It is one of the major missions of the public service because it is the foundation of democracy.

3. At the same time, the Ministries of Culture and Education must decide on exceptional subsidies so that the country’s schools can truly become schools of books and reading. This is an opportunity to give new resources to the BCDs (school libraries) which are running out of steam in too many nursery and elementary schools. Tip lists are no longer enough! We need books, in number, training and human resources to support them. This would be a one-off action that would also help to revive the entire book chain, from authors to booksellers, from printers to small publishers.

4. Because nothing can replace a real book that you own, book vouchers must reach the families who need them on a massive scale. They would allow many to find their way to the bookshop. The Family Benefit Fund (CAF), but also the employee representative committees and local elected representatives, must regularly offer books to mark the events in a child’s life. Gifts that often symbolize the meaning of living together, global issues or simply the happiness of becoming an adult reader one day.

5. Isn’t it finally time to take long-awaited technical measures, such as postal rates for books aligned with those of the press, or the financial incentives that would accompany publishers who choose to print in France at a much higher cost than the quotes from China or Malaysia?

Could not the envisaged exit from this historic crisis be an opportunity to set the bar high for a demanding and fairly shared cultural ambition? For more respect for the planet by the publishing world? On the questioning of the astronomical production volumes of the major publishing groups? In order to survive, the small publishing houses, whose small number of published titles is being swept away by the growing hurricane of publications, must be able to sell each and every one of their titles better, otherwise many of them will disappear, asphyxiated. Yet each of these publishers has a unique place in our country’s childhood landscape.

At Rue du monde, for example, we try to bring something new to the relationship with the natural world, to fraternal citizenship, to education in freedom, art, dreams and poetry as a means to better succeed together in our lives. We have decided to respond to the crisis by making these few proposals. And, for the first time in almost 25 years, we are also going to launch an appeal to all those who are bound to the original identity that we have built up in some 500 books: families, teachers, booksellers, librarians, associations, solidarity networks… their support will be the key to our coming months.”

Alain Serres

Author, Publisher of Editions Rue du monde, May 4, 2020