Le Comptoir Des Indépendants, distributor for L’Association and other smaller publishers is to close. This has happened after the announcement of a much greater drop in sales volume than expected from L’Association and a reduction of staff and projects. Les Belles Lettres is expected to take the majority of L’Association’s remaining distribution.
France stills has a very healthy comics industry, it has grown rapidly over the past twenty years, growing 375% in unit sales between 1990 and 2005, but since then the industry has plateaued and growth, almost expected by the industry, just hasn’t been there.
Also, L’Association specialised in alternative comics – which considering the majority of what mainstream comics are in France would be considered alternative in the USA, gives you a flavour of how left field the work was, publishing volumes from the likes of Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, David B and Emmanuel Guibert. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis was considered one of their most mainstream books – and that was before the movie.
However, they grew a strong audience for this material – and other publishers noticed. Over the last few years, the bigger French and Belgian publishers have been putting out work that would have otherwise been L’Association’s bread and butter.
L’Association has also specialised in manga, a line that boomed but has recently lost much of its previous appeal. Equally they haven’t had a digital publishing solution unlike all the other major French comics publishing houses, so they haven’t been able to reap the benefits from this emerging, growing sector, while everything else has been shrinking around them.
So, this is a small crisis for one publisher, and probably not reflective of the French industry as a whole. But there is the worry that, in microcosm, it could show signs of things to come.