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EMPOWERING CHILDREN

A book for the price of a baguette

FRANCE • Publishing disruptor Vincent Safrat is not only selling books like they are bread rolls - and at the same price as a baguette - but he is also doing so on a massive scale. Last year alone, Mr Safrat sold around 2.5 million copies in France.

So, what is his secret?

It is in the price: He is able to sell each book for 80 US cents (S$1.10), which drastically undercuts the €7 (S$11) on average you would pay for a children's book. By taking on the distribution himself - which represents around 60 per cent of a book's cost - and in printing the paperbacks for only 30 US cents each, Mr Safrat has been able to achieve this innovative model.

Having grown up in the suburbs of Paris, Mr Safrat was an indifferent student until he discovered Gustave Flaubert's L'Education Sentimentale (Sentimental Education). He had a revelation. "I believe that reading can replace studying. Hence my notion of bringing reading to those who don't read," said the convert to reading.

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In 1992, he began visiting various publishing houses every day, scooping up any unsold works to redistribute for free to homes in low-income suburbs.

In 1998, after a friendly salesman explained that a paperback does not cost much more than a franc to produce, he started to print books at a low price and distribute them to schools. This became his focus when he realised many lacked the means to equip themselves. Schools either buy the works for their students or organise book sales for parents.

JUST READ IT

I believe that reading can replace studying. Hence my notion of bringing reading to those who don't read.

MR VINCENT SAFRAT

Though the books are sold at low cost, the authors do not lose out, thanks to the revenue generated by massive print runs.

Not yet satisfied with his social impact, Mr Safrat also organises book workshops for children in Paris. Writer and co-founder of Lire et Faire Lire, Alexandre Jardin, said: "He has revolutionised the market economy because he thinks differently."

Today, Lire c'est partir has 12 staff and six vans distributing books, and even Mr Safrat finally has a salary.

All this has occurred without his asking for the smallest subsidy from the public authorities.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'A book for the price of a baguette'. Print Edition | Subscribe