Thursday, July 22, 2021

Books as an "Essential Good"

"The French government classifies books as an “essential good,” along with electricity, bread, and water." 

I ran across this sentence from an op-ed piece in the New York Times, "The French Do Buy Books, Real Books" in 2014 and it took me aback. 

What does it mean to be an "essential good?" In France, the classification as an essential good allows books to have a special status. They are subject to low taxes. Price discounts on books are limited to five percent and the discounts can't be offered in addition to free shipping. This allows prices of books to be similar between bookshops. In France, the government has taken strong measures to protect what it considers a precious resource.

In an article from November of 2014 in the New York Times, two writers debate whether the US should declare books an essential good. One of the two writers notes that the average person in France reads 25% more books than the average American and that fourteen percent of books published in France are translations compared to 3% in the US. He sums up his thoughts about this question by concluding, "Such realities reflect deep cultural values that can’t be Band-Aided over. Should we declare books 'an essential good?' Sure, declare away. But saying so won’t make it so."

During the pandemic, many countries identified what is and is not an essential good, and non-essential items are cordoned off and not permitted to be sold. Various countries, including Wales, Scotland, Belgium, and Italy put books on the essential goods list.

I would certainly classify books as an essential good. But is that a widespread belief? Apparently it is in France. 

Books are a crucial part of culture, an important element of a democracy. What can we do to encourage more thoughtful reading and thoughtful discourse here in the US? Are there ways we can promote a culture of reading here in this country?

27 comments:

  1. It's interesting how the pandemic affected non-readers. Suddenly, they were reading. Desperate for the written word actually. Once they went through all the must see shows on Netflix they picked up books. I am still amazed at how many non-readers there are. My family included which pains me to no end. How can we improve that? Do away with forced reading logs in school. It literally killed the joy of reading for my kids.

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    1. Yes, do away with forced reading logs. Get rid of everyone reading the same required book. My sons said the same thing about this.

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  2. I think that would be fantastic for the U.S. to do that. Books are an essential good. They are about ideas and experiences. I would hope more ways to promote reading would come from declaring books an essential good. But I have no idea. But I love the thought of it.

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  3. Books as an essential good - what an excellent idea! There shouldn't even be a debate about it.

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  4. I think we should definitely do more to encourage reading here in the U.S. I think aside from library programs, book festivals are also a great way to share the love of reading and get readers excited about the variety of subjects they can read about.

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    1. I'm always glad to hear public figures announce the list of books they plan to read.

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  5. In Canada there is no sales tax on books as they are considered essential, but I'm not sure if they were able to be purchased as essential during the pandemic. I didn't go out much and bought my books online of got them from the library which had curbside pickup.

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  6. Interesting post Deb. Personally I always thought of books as "essential". When my kiddos were little and we'd go shopping and the kids begged for toys, I generally said - "No, but you can pick out a book if you'd like." Eventually they stopped asking for toys (except for Christmas or a birthday) and started asking for books.

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  7. This is such an interesting concept and just makes me happy! Is anything in the US considered an essential good and treated differently? I can't think of any.

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  8. There are goods that are considered essential by the federal government including water, food, medicines. Not all states adopted the list, however.

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  9. I couldn't agree more! Books should be an essential good for sure. I think I need to move to France. In South Africa, the day that books are considered essential goods will never come. New books are terribly expensive here and we don't have many book retailers either. Two major ones and one online one. Terribly sad.

    Lovely post Debbie!

    Elza Reads

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  10. I agree. But it doesn't surprise me that other places have a higher reading rate than we do. I'm the only one besides my mom who reads a lot in my family. I had to give some of my used books to the library because no one around here wanted them and I was shocked.

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  11. French sales taxes (actually VAT at 20% with some items reduced) are much higher than US taxes, so the idea of a tax-free good is more dramatic there than here. California's 7.25% is the highest sales tax in the country. I wonder if this rate actually deters anyone from purchasing a book.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. No, I wouldn't say it deters anyone from purchasing a book, but I would say that it shows a respect for books.

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  12. Books are essential for me.

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  13. What a thoughtful post and interesting sounding article which I will check out. To me, books are definitely an essential good. Wonderful food for thought.

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  14. Interesting post! Books are definitely essential to me. Unfortunately I don't think declaring them as essential goods in the US would make much difference. We need to continue to encourage reading and promote libraries to our younger generations, especially. Maybe one day our reading percentage will be up!

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  15. Deb, I forgot to say that I love the way you have a way of always making me hungry on weekends LOL

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  16. glad you are enjoying all things french. -:)

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  17. If only it were true that Wales had considered books essential but sadly the book shops were closed just like all other non food/health related shops. In the second lockdown when even supermarkets were told they could sell essential items only, the book shelves were closed off....

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