France publishers have an advantage in the world with their government-sponsored international promotion organization, France Edition. These folks, through various activities, through The French Book Office in New York, and through their monthly newsletter, promote French publishers and authors around the world. At most major book fairs you will find France Edition, and as a result, La Lettre reports on publishing activities around the world more thoroughly than any we've found, save Germany.

While the equivalent of Publishers Weekly, Livres Hebdo, is the national news and reviews publication of the industry, France Edition provides an annual overview of the French publishing scene in their Panorama de la Edition Francais created for the Salon des Livres in April. Our report is a primarily a translated summary of that. (With special thanks to Vincent Bontoux.)

They also produce an excellent directory of the major publishing houses of France each year, from which our resources have been delivered.

The one aspect of French publishing not included under the directive of France Edition is the national book statistics, which are compiled by another organization, the Syndicat National de la Edition. The Syndicat's objective is to represent the interests of the 400 major publishing houses, including magazines as well as books and journals, to promote reading and writing, and to defend freedom of the press and the rights of authors. But their statistical results are based on volunteer participation of the members, and so not always as accurate as figures generated from ISBN information would give us.

The Syndicat pronounced 1997 a black year for publishing, as sales of books declined by 1%. France Edition blames the poor sales in book stores in the first semester, a reduction in the average price of a book, and more returns. Only pocket books and juveniles showed slight gains, 1% and .5% respectively.

Still the industry is basically robust: 5000 publishers continue to support roughly 11,000 people, and 47,214 titles were produced in 1997, more than half of which were new.

Literature (mostly novels, but including plays, p try, essays and analysis of current events) represents a healthy 28% of the market and children's books (including textbooks) another 19%, with scholarly publishing 18% and practical titles (including guides and maps) another 15%.

But there is a huge consolidation of business at the top, with two major groups, Hachette-Matra and Havas Publications Edition (part of the Vivendi conglomerate). These two together represent 65% of the titles and 75% of the distribution business.

Louis Hachette founded the original enterprise in 1826, but it has never stopped growing and diversifying. Incorporated into the armament and satellite group, Matra in 1979, Hachette is now of the most important communication companies in the world. Books represent only 20% of their business. They are also the second largest producers of newspapers in the country as well as major retailers and distributors of books, magazines, newspapers and multimedia.

Among their book imprints are Grasset, Fayard, Stock, Calmann-Levy for literature. They have 30% of the national market in scolarly books with Hachette Education and Hatier-Didier-Foucher, and 35% of juveniles with Bibliotheque rose, verte, Atlas, collections Cousteau, Disney-Hachette and Hatier. In popular and mass market, they have Livre de Poche, Marabout, Le Masque, SAS, Harlequin-France and Edition No. 1, as well as the reference lines, Guide bleu, Livre de Paris, Salvat and Grolier (also in the USA).

Havas Publications Edition (HPE) is part of another giant agglomeration with many imprints. The parent company, renamed Vivendi earlier this year, is now the largest private employer in the country, with $40 billion in turnover, of which 30% is in communications, and only 7.5% is book publishing.

HPE has six branches including such well known imprints as Larousse, Nathan and Bordas, reborn in 1988 as Groupe de la Cite, and now adding CEP, Le Robert, Masson, Dunod, Pocket, Fleuve Noir, Harrap's, Chambers, Espasa Calpa and jeux Nathan, among others.

They also own 50% of France Loisirs with Bertelsmann in Germany and are the market leader in book club sales in French.

The second rung of the book industry begins with Gallimard, with 6% of the market and a fine reputation for prestigious literature, both in original and in translation. They also have a major children's list and guidebooks.

Flammarion is next, along with its children's list (Pere Castor), art books and medicine. Seuil sticks with literature and the social sciences, with a success pocket series and many international c ditions.

Albin Michel is known for their mix of powerful French authors and mega-hit bestsellers from abroad (including Mary Higgins Clark, number one in 97, Bernard Werber and Stephan King).

Actes Sud, founded 20 years ago in Arles in the Provence, has developed popular contemporary foreign authors like Paul Auster and Z Valdes, but also juveniles, nonfiction and health titles.

Much of the creative ferment rests in the many smaller houses in France, however, with under a million dollars in business a year. The biggest distributor for these companies is Distique, which has a catalog of 260 houses.

Reading in France, more so than in the rest of Western Europe, has a high status. The written word is considered the tool of high culture and so it is not surprising that 66% of Europeans consider books the best way of improving ones understanding of life. In France, one third of the population read more than 15 books a year, another one third up to nine a year and the rest less than that.

While more French are reading more books, however, the number of heavy readers (more than 25 books a year) is declining. Big growth in categories like Practical Books in recent years have been part of this trend towards the popularization of the book industry.

While the Syndicat gives nearly $300 million as the total rights paid to authors last year, out of a $2.2 billion industry, the figure that is not available is precisely how many titles are translated into French from other languages among the French books in print. The French are avid readers of the literary works of other countries.