A History of Booksellers and Bookstores

Original title: Histoire des libraires et de la librairie

Publication Date:

March 2021



Original language and publisher

French | Actes Sud

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia

Territories Sold

Italy (E/O Edizioni)
World English (The Mountain Leopard Press)
China (Peking UP)
Japan (Hara Shobo)


Essay, History

A History of Booksellers and Bookstores

Original title: Histoire des libraires et de la librairie


“Jean-Yves Mollier, a specialist in the history of publishing and books, offers us a dense and subtly illustrated Histoire des libraires et de la librairie, from the origins to the present day.” — Jean Claude Perrier, Livres Hebdo

“Jean-Yves Mollier, in Histoire des libraires et de la librairie, has chosen the wide angle, that of a very long history, open to the diversity of media and practices of the written word.” — Roger Chartier, Le Monde des Livres

“A pleasantly illustrated work, which presents the multiple faces of this profession over time.” — Oliver Cariguel, Lire Le Magazine Littéraire

“A very beautiful book. […] An erudite and militant book.” — Thomas Snegaroff, France Info

An extraordinary artifact, one of the greatest of history’s inventions, a locus for reverie and reflection, the book is above all a commodity: from paper and ink it is manufactured before being funneled down a supply chain to vendors and onto buyers. It may be bought, borrowed, gifted, exchanged or simply stolen. What it contains however may have the power to change the world. Books are children of the mind, trained and tutored with savoir-faire, some promise knowledge, other provoke lassitude in their readers, inside they conserve valuable traces, sparks of creativity or revolution; they may be food for the mind, or a friendly voice who somehow captures our emotional torments. Since Antiquity to the present day, on all continents, passionate men and women have enabled authors to distribute their ideas, knowledge and works, leading readers or listeners of all ages, whether literate or not, into a world of discovery and other cultures.

Over the centuries, these transmitters of lore invented a trade and organized themselves into corporations, setting up bookstalls, then vast book emporiums, constantly reinventing their practices.

The history of all such businesses is related here starting with the commerce of ideas in markets and forums, sites of exchange open to all, spaces of discovery and freedom, resistance and rebellion, but also of regulation, surveillance and censure. Each seller has very different missions, to appeal to the public, purveyors of fantasy of fiction, or tune into a specialist mission. Their modi operandi are very different: from hawking to press boutiques, independent vendors to emporiums, chain stores and online outlets.

The author guides us through the mysteries of a vast cultural industry at the intersection between the world of ideas and of the economy. He meticulously retraces the multifarious meandering paths that take the book to its readers and in doing so, pays an erudite tribute to booksellers, those indispensable “cultural couriers,” who have such an important social role to play, a role even more valuable in an age where the human being is being supplanted by the algorithm.

Marketing Information

  • Winner of the Prix Charles-Aubert d’histoire 2021