The Corner

France’s Culture

Virgin Records has announced that it would close all its stores in France, as the company’s bankruptcy looks inevitable. But while other countries have gone through the same event and have understood the chain’s demise as the result of technological changes and a simple business-failure story, the French are viewing it as some sort of injustice brought about by the evil forces of competition, forces that must be regulated and control by the government. The BBC Robert Plummer explains:

When the Zavvi group finally disappeared from the UK and Ireland in February 2009, it meant the loss of 125 stores and 2,300 jobs.

Despite this, the closures went ahead with no government intervention.

In the case of Virgin Megastores in France, the company has a smaller presence. Majority owned by the French investment company Butler Capital, it employs 1,000 people in 26 stores.

Virgin’s staff are grimly aware of the firm’s plight

Even so, no-one seems to think it strange that the country’s minister of culture, Aurelie Filippetti, should be having meetings with management and union representatives in an effort to keep the firm alive.

Without naming Apple or Amazon, Miss Filippetti complained in a radio interview about the emergence of big websites that “completely escape any kind of fair competition, because they don’t pay the same taxes as the others, being based elsewhere than in France”.

In other words, the decline of bricks-and-mortar shops selling music and books, which other countries view mainly in terms of technological change, acquires more than a tinge of economic nationalism in France.

The interesting thing, of course, is that back when Virgin opened up its first megastore in France, many commentators (probably the same as the ones complaining about Virgin’s closing its stores today) were denouncing it as unfair competition to the smaller music stores. 


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