Competing head-on with Amazon to sell French books around the world: this is the cheeky gamble taken by two former executives of the e-commerce giant, Emmanuelle Henry and Marc Bordier. Both launched, at the beginning of October, Lireka, an online bookstore intended for 2 million French expatriates and 235 million French speakers living outside France. They promise “Lower prices than Amazon.com and equivalent delivery times around the world”.
According to Marc Bordier, president of this start-up, this bet is possible thanks to “To the high discount rates negotiated with the publishers, to the preferential rates granted by carriers, such as DHL, and finally to our low fixed costs”. Emmanuelle Henry, Managing Director, points out that “The average basket of customers in the United States is 55 euros”. However, the sale of several books at the same time is more profitable for Lireka, since the price of sending a parcel is only partly linked to its weight.
In addition, the price of the book is not regulated outside the French borders, which sometimes makes it possible, by lowering the base price, to offset the shipping costs. Lireka will, for example, invoice a New York customer for the 2020 Goncourt price, The Anomalies, by Hervé Le Tellier (Gallimard), at 23.60 dollars including postage (the equivalent of 20 euros, its price in bookstores in France), where Amazon asks for 29.36 dollars. On the other hand, sending a single paperback book, even sold more expensive than in France, will make the start-up lose money. “It’s an equalization system”, explains Marc Bordier.
“The complementarities of the physical and online bookstore”
Long expatriates in Anglo-Saxon countries and disappointed by Amazon’s offer, which they deem too low in French works, the two leaders first bought in October 2020 the Arthaud bookstore, in the heart of Grenoble. This institution offers a fund of 80,000 securities and employs 32 people. “We rely on the complementarities of the physical and online bookstore”, exposes Marc Bordier. It claims access to a catalog of over 1 million titles. Majority in the capital of Lireka with 87% of the shares, alongside, in particular, a company of Czech IT developers, the founders are aiming for a net profit from 2023.
This structure also works in France for, like Amazon, 1 cent for the delivery of a book. But, to put an end to the distortion of competition between the logistics giant and independent bookstores, the deputies allowed, on October 6, the establishment of minimum shipping costs, which will be fixed by decree.
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