French language

Sylvie Marcé

Books in French are intended to be distributed throughout the world

The National Forum for French-Language Publishing will be held in September 2021 and is a key feature of the French Language and Multilingualism Plan presented by the President of the Republic on 20th March 2018. Here we get to grips with the main issues with its commissioner, Sylvie Marcé.

Updated on 07/09/2021

5 min

Sylvie Marcé
Sylvie Marcé
© DR

With a 20-year career in the publishing industry, Sylvie Marcé managed Éditions Belin for 15 years and then the Humensis group, created by the merger of Éditions Belin and Puf. For 10 years, she was a member of the National Publishing Union’s board, where she was Vice-President from 2010 to 2015.

The National Forum for French-Language Publishing advocates a "literary world", as mentioned by Emmanuel Macron in his speech on 20th March 2018. Is this term essential?

This term, which is taken from the manifesto of the 44 writers published in Le Monde in 2007, highlights the need for French-language books to be distributed worldwide, regardless of where they were written. It also reflects the importance of not favouring French literature over other literature in French languages - I stress the plural!


What are the National Forum’s objectives?

Ultimately, the main objective is, of course, to distribute books in French: French speakers from all continents must be able to widely access literary and intellectual works in the French language. This requires the creation of a de-compartmentalised French-speaking editorial space, one which is not primarily focused on metropolitan France, and the networking of all publishing professionals who have French in common: it is this networking to which the National Forum must contribute. The last point is the integration of new digital opportunities.

French speakers from all continents must be able to widely access literary and intellectual works in the French language

Does the National Forum aim to analyse the distribution of books in French?

Many observations have already been made in this area. It is therefore more a question of taking the next step and proposing solutions. The National Forum will have to be a space for discussion and also a place for proposing initiatives and programmes. It is nevertheless necessary to look at how things stand at present with the publication of books in French. Our priority is to set up this database, which will include a list of those involved in publishing and an events calendar. All this data, which we are currently gathering and which will be supplemented by a prospective study by 2030 and 2050, will make it possible to make informed proposals.


Will it then be a matter of legislating?

We can expect there will be proposals for measures of a political nature, more proactive cultural or educational policies concerning publishing will be implemented, support bodies for publishers and vocational training will be created and a code of conduct will be drawn up. But distributing books in French cannot rely solely on the support of the public authorities. It will also be essential to develop ways in which publishing markets can be structured in countries that do not have them and to help professionalise the sector.


Currently, what are the main obstacles to distributing books in French?

Four major issues have been identified. The first concerns how publishing operates and how rights are purchased or transferred. The challenge is to foster relations between French-speaking publishers so the distribution of books can improve. The second concerns how narrow the distribution channels for the works are. It is about improving the distribution of works from one country to another, knowing what is published and considering other possible forms of distribution, via educational systems or digitally, for example. One idea would be to establish a corpus of literary works in the French language that would be made available as part of the various curricula in French-speaking countries. The third point concerns the options for transporting books with, of course, the use of digital technology, but also perhaps by creating local centres of expertise and printing, and establishing partnerships or joint publications to limit the expensive, slow and sometimes complicated transport of books. Finally, the last point is the visibility, promotion and mobility of authors. The vast majority of French-speaking non-French authors are not known by the French-speaking readership. The solutions to be put in place will concern information and communication strategies, promoting literary prizes or festivals in different countries, as well as easier procedures for authors to obtain visas so they can promote their books in places other than their own country.

The vast majority of French-speaking non-French authors are not known by the French-speaking readership

Who will participate in the National Forum?

There will, of course, be political representatives, in particular the Ministers for Culture or Education from the French-speaking countries because it is essential that politicians understand the expectations. Publishers, distributors, bookshops, libraries, printers and authors - in other words, every link in the editorial chain - will also be represented. The proposals made and how they are implemented will be closely monitored. The National Forum for French-Language Publishing must be long-term so the French-language publishing sector can evolve, stabilise and, above all, develop if it is to improve the movement of works and authors.

États généraux du livre en langue française dans le monde
États généraux du livre en langue française dans le monde
The Institut français and the project

Initiated by the President of the French Republic, the National Forum for French-Language Publishing is one of the features of the French Language and Multilingualism Plan, presented on 20th March 2018 at the Académie Française.


The Institut Français is responsible for its implementation, under the general direction of Sylvie Marcé.


L'institut français, LAB