Guide des magasins, or "Where can I buy this stuff?"

First, the bad news. Although I have heard of a few U.S. bookstores here and there that can special-order French mangas for their loyal customers, generally most will be kind of clueless, since their regular distributors don't carry them. Thus in all likelihood, you are going to have to mail order from some place in a foreign country where (a) they may not speak much English, and (b) they don't take U.S. dollars. So, you'll have to have some familiarity with shipping costs and exchange rates, and enough knowledge of French business terms to understand whether or not they were referring to "first-born child" in that one obscure section on payment conditions.

Now, the good news. The commercial success of the World-Wide Web is due in large part to the way it facilitates buying odd things from odd corners of the world. Nowadays, you're just a few clicks (and 2-6 weeks of delais de livraison) away from getting your hands on just about any French manga title.

About ordering from foreign lands

I can't help giving out unsolicited advice, so here goes:

  1. Order by credit card! It is infinitely simpler to use a credit card - just enter the numbers, click the button, and hope nobody felt like breaking your 40-bit encryption today. The exchange rates are also the best you're going to see - generally around 2% over the bank-to-bank rate, with no additional fees. And credit cards are so easy to get nowadays - even pets are getting applications for them, after all. Even if you don't use a credit card for normal purchases, it would be worth it to get (a no-fee) one for your international orders.

    If you can't or won't use a credit card, on account of your avoidance of the global banking conspiracy, or because you are perhaps only eight years old, you'll have to check with the individual store as to what alternatives they will accept. Generally, you're going to have to come up with some sort of bank draft or money order which is denominated in the foreign currency. (Sometimes you can use US$-denominated ones, but you'll have to cover the cost of the currency exchange.) Large banks (and often small ones) can do this for you, or you may be able to use international postal money orders. Expect to pay a moderate fee + get slightly burned on the exchange rate. [Here's a hint: to reassure your bank, it might help to say, "Don't worry, this transaction is not part of the international arms or narcotics trade. I just wanted to buy some violent pornographic comic books." Then again, it might not. You'll have to judge the situation for yourself.]

  2. Be patient! French mangas are cheap, even considering exchange fees, but shipping can be a killer. Always opt for the cheapest shipping option. After all, does it really matter in the global scheme of things whether you had to wait 2 weeks or 4 weeks for the next volume of Kenshin?

    You will notice in the list below that shipping charges are the biggest price differentiator by far between the different companies. What I have generally found is that the small manga-only shops have good service, but can't really get a better deal on shipping than you or I could. (FYI, I just sent a 2.4kg (5.25lb) package to France, and the "cheapest" rate I could get was over US$20.) Large multinational behemoths use their global dominance to exact better rates, and pass the savings on to you! (After their fatcat bosses get their cut, of course.)

  3. One consequence of the tragic events of September 11th and the subsequent anthrax scare in the U.S. and elsewhere is a general amount of confusion in international shipping. From anecdotal evidence, it doesn't seem that shipments necessarily take longer, but there is a lot more variability. It's probably best to allow an additional week or so over the shipping time estimates given below.

  4. Check out the exchange rates before you order. There are several online currency converters; the one I use is the Classic 164 Currency Converter by OANDA . Kaeta! As of the time I wrote this (6 August 2004), these were the (credit card) exchange rates it was quoting:

    However, these rates have been extraordinarily variable! Just for fun, and because this page is sorely lacking in graphics, here is a currency chart (again, courtesy of Oanda) covering the last six years (Jan 1998 - Dec 2003). It shows relative changes vs. the US$, using the exchange rates of 1 January 2000 as the basis of comparison. (The French franc (FF) is used in place of the Euro for the 1998-2001 section.) Please note this chart shows relative changes in rates, not the exchange rates themselves!

    As you can see, the relationship between Canadian and European currencies in particular has changed markedly over this period:

    (Oanda currency chart)

  5. Value added tax (VAT or (French) TVA). European countries generally incorporate the sales tax into the price of items. (That's why it's "value added" - not that you're getting any more value for it!) The good news is that you, as a citizen of a country that fought hard to throw off the yoke of European taxation, should not have to pay this tax. The store should automatically deduct it from your purchase price, a nice little bonus. The "bad" news is that VAT/TVA on books is pretty small - 5.5% in France, 2.3% in Switzerland. Also, I haven't always gotten it refunded; I'm not sure whether there's a minimum order threshold, or whether the store simply forgot. (Oh, your state taxing authority wants me to remind you to pay "use" taxes on all those out-of-state items you're buying!)

  6. Customs. Customs (la douane) has the right to inspect and open any package from abroad. They can seize items if they're in a particularly bad mood, or charge you a duty. Only the paranoid (or the Canadians) need worry about this - I've never had a package opened (well, that I could tell) or been charged duty. So far as I can make out from the Customs Department publications, in the U.S., there is no duty on shipments published material below a fairly high level (US$300?). However, the publications also warn you not to take anyone else's word on what duties are, so please don't trust me on this!

  7. Discounts. In the US, we are blessed with amazon-lets constantly fighting with each other over pricing, with discounts of 30% - 50% off cover prices quite common (except for the books I want to buy, which somehow tend to come with surcharges attached). However, the benevolent government of France has enacted the so-called Lang law, which (among many other things) states that stores may not give discounts of more than 5% off book cover prices. This only applies to French language books; English or Japanese books can be discounted as much as you want (not that they actually are in practice). Of course, it does seem a tad ungrateful to complain about the lack of discounts off of prices which are already less than a third of American prices.

    Incidentally, this law doesn't yet affect other countries, European Union or no, so you can sometimes find cheaper prices in a Belgian, Swiss, or even Canadian store. Unfortunately, only Belgium out of those three has changed to the Euro, so doing detailed price comparisons could get tedious for the others.

  8. For those ordering from the United States, it can sometimes be a little tricky figuring out how to fill out the order forms. In particular, most French ordering forms are not going to have spaces for state or zip code! I find it works out fine to put the zip code in the space for "Code Postal" and the city, state in the space for "Ville." For example:

    Nom		Bush
    Prenom		George
    Adresse		White House
    Adresse suite	1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    Code Postal	20500
    Ville		Washington, DC
    
    (I hope I don't get chided by Scott McClellan for giving out information on the President's whereabouts to terrorists! But as I understand it, W. isn't there all that often anyway. And he probably has an aide order all his French manga for him.)

Les magasins

Here is the store listing, along with whatever comments I can provide. I've only tried a few of these places, so would be quite interested in any comments you might have on your experiences! The information and approximate exchange rates given below were accurate as of 6 August 2004. By the way, the listing is alphabetical, just so you know I am not playing favorites.

And, the usual disclaimers which should go without saying, but in today's climate probably won't:

  1. My only relationship with any of these places is as an occasional customer. I receive no compensation of any kind for listing or endorsing them here. [Of course, if they'd like to send me some, it's possible something could be arranged...]

  2. All right, that previous statement is inoperable. I signed up for the "partenaire" program with alapage.com, so I can nominally expect to get a few centimes in a few years if you follow the links here in ordering from it. (I am mostly doing it to give myself a tiny discount, I must admit.)

  3. Similarly, two-timer that I am, I am also now a "partenaire" with amazon.fr. So use the links there if you like.

  4. Logos, trademarks and the like are used here for the purposes of identification only and remain the property of whoever it is they belong to (not me, in any case).



Name: Alapage.com (Novalis) alapage.com
URL: http://www.alapage.com
(or http://www.alapage.com/?donnee_appel=MAHOU
if you want to give me a few centimes)
Location: Montmelian, France
Shipping: Ah, well, the good times couldn't last forever, could they? Unfortunately, shipping, which used to be only 59FF (at the time, around US$8) per shipment for express shipping, has now gone through the roof: 12 EUR + 2 EUR per article for standard shipping (for 8 books, around US$34.50), 20 EUR + 2 EUR per article for express (for 8 books, around US$44.35). Normal shipping has a delivery time of around 7 days, while express is 2 to 5 days.
Language: French and English

Notes: Alapage.com is (I believe) an online-only retailer, sort of France's answer to Amazon.com. Active online store, has front and back cover scans for most books, and links to related books, as well as weight information (very useful if they go back to charging for shipping by weight). There are also provisions for posting reader reviews, though as yet very few manga titles have reviews.

Alapage.com started with the Planète Livre book database (just like Fnac), but have been adding their own listings of late. In particular, they've got most of the new Tonkam titles! (However, for Tonkam titles which are not in stock, you may have to wait as much as 14-30 additional days for delivery. This is true of all stores, by the way. Waits for other publishers are generally just a few days.)

After several revisions, the Alapage.com searching and ordering interface now seems to work pretty well. In stock indications have gotten quite accurate, and even the author database has improved somewhat. (However, it still has a number of errors and omissions.) Good online tracking of current order status through "Amapage."

Unfortunately, with the change in shipping rates, Alapage.com has gone from one of the cheapest to one of the most expensive choices. Too bad, as their service and selection had gotten to be quite good. Oh well, hopefully prices will moderate again soon.



Name: Amazon.fr En partenariat avec amazon.fr
URL: http://www.amazon.fr
(or http://www.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/redirect-home?site=amazon&tag=mahoussguided-21 if you want to bless me with a few centimes)
Location: Paris, France (?)
Shipping: Standard (10-12 day) shipping to North America is now 9 EUR + 1.9 EUR per article. Express (1-5 day) shipping is 14.5 EUR + 1.9 EUR per article. For 8 books, standard shipping works out to around US$29.80.
Language: French

Notes: Well, we American Internet imperialists couldn't let the challenge go unanswered, could we? Amazon.com has stepped into the French fray with its affliate amazon.fr. Standard 5% discount (guess American clout only goes so far), and a good selection of manga listings.

amazon.fr has also instituted its Programme Marketplace in France as well; of interest to U.S. audiences, it's one of the few places where you can order livres d'occaz. With the U.S. shipping for Marketplace items being 8.49EUR per article, though, it's not really a discount route.

Incidentally, amazon.fr has invited me into their "partenaire" program. So if you use the links I'll be scattering around to get to their site, I may eventually end up with a Euro or two, though not (of course) at your expense.



Name: Archambault Archambault
URL: http://www.archambault.ca
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Shipping: For XpressPost États-Unis shipping (2-5 days) to the U.S., it's CA$8.99 for the first article, CA$1.99 for each additional. Around US$17.77 for 8 books. For Canadians, shipment by "colis accélérés" is free for any shipment over CA$35! NB: While they mention "colis accélérés" shipping as also being available to the U.S. (not free, but presumably less than XpressPost), I was unable to find any details on it, or to select it.
Language: French and (mostly also) English

Notes: Complete online store, active and up-to-date. There are provisions for cover scans, though very few mangas seem to have them. Like Renaud-Bray (q.v), Archambault makes a decent case for our neighbors to the north. Very complete listings, including most Tonkam and Pika titles. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any indication of in-stock status. As with other Canadian stores, prices seem generally around 20% higher than the European ones.

With free(!) shipping, clearly Archambault has to be at or near the top of the list of bookstore choices for anyone living in Canada. For Americans, again, things are less clear, with shipping not really much less than the European options.



Name: archonia archonia
URL: http://www.archonia.com
Location: Diepenbeek, Belgium
Shipping: Shipping is by weight; for 2 kilos, it's now up to 32 EUR (around US$39.40)
Language: You name it (English, French, Dutch, Spanish...)

Notes: We had to have an entry from the land of 300 (or was that 3000?) beers, didn't we? archonia is now almost a veteran of the web scene, recently celebrating their fifth anniversary online. One nice feature for the credit-card shy is that they are set up to take payment in many forms, including even U.S. greenbacks sent through the mail! (Not that I'd necessarily recommend doing that, mind you.)

The selection is one of the best around, with most current (and quite a few older) titles available. They also have a pretty good selection of (untranslated) Japanese manga, and a huge selection of manga/anime associated toys and trinkets. In the few detailed comparisons I have done, their prices are quite competitive: slightly higher than the French stores on a few titles (notably from Pika), but somewhat lower than them on others (notably Génération Comics and Glénat).

archonia periodically runs promotions of various sorts; one longstanding one is the archonia point system: you accumulate points through purchases, writing reviews, etc., and can then use the points to "buy" bargain items - basically, things they've decided to get rid of. Occasionally these items include French manga, mostly Casterman titles for some reason.

Non-French Europeans in particular should check them out; shipping rates within all of Europe are quite cheap. (Many of the French stores offer free shipping within France, but near-U.S. rates to anywhere else in Europe.)



Name: Atomic Club Atomic Club
URL: http://www.atomicclub.com
Location: Paris, France
Shipping: The only shipping option I could find was 23 EUR (US$28.33), with the notation to "contact us first." I have been told cheaper options have been available, at least in the past.
Language: French only

Notes: Atomic Club now has an online version of their store. Very good selection, including all their own titles, of course, but most others as well. The prices seem to be the usual 5% discount. Payment from foreign countries has to be in International Postal Money Order.



Name: BD Land BD Land
URL: http://www.bdland.com
Location: Caudry, France
Shipping: N/A
Language: French only

Notes: BD Land has an excellent listing of French BDs and mangas. The prices are the usual 5% discount. Site navigation is straightforward, well-organized and quite functional. Listings are very complete and up-to-date; in fact, they're my main source for new manga info nowdays. Unfortunately, they do not currently have online sales, but may enable them at a future date. (The site is all set up to do sales, but they don't have a working interface for taking payments.)



Name: BDnet BDnet
URL: http://www.bdnet.com
Location: Paris and Pantin, France
Shipping: Shipping is based on the number of articles; for normal shipping, it's 16 EUR for 1 to 4, 21 EUR for 5 to 7, 33 for 8 to 12, and so on. Seven books would be US$25.86, while 8 would weigh in at US$40.64.
Language: French only

Notes: BDnet (or BD-net or BD Net; they're not consistent in how they render it) has a very good selection of French BDs and mangas. The prices are the usual 5% discount. I found site navigation a bit awkward, but functional enough. Shipping has come down considerably in recent years and is now close to average. One nice feature on their site is a comprehensive listing of upcoming releases.



Name: bol.fr bol.fr
URL: http://www.bol.fr
Location: dot.com heaven...
Shipping: Shipping was a fixed fee of 49FF (around US$6.80) for "poste standard" (10 days) or 95FF (around US$13.19) for "poste prioritaire" (5 days).
Language: French only

Notes: German-American world economic domination isn't what it used to be, is it? Bol.fr closed its electronic doors for good as of 31 July, 2001. (Somehow I lucked out and got my last order sent out a couple of days beforehand.) Perhaps it will return at some point (other BOL affliliates still exist), so I will leave this entry in as a pointer of sorts.



Name: Decitre decitre.fr
URL: http://www.decitre.fr
Location: Lyon, France
Shipping: Shipping is based on price, at around 20-25% of the total. For 8 typical mangas, expect to pay 11.5 - 19 EUR depending on their price (around US$14.16-US$23.40). Delivery time is quoted as 5 to 8 days.
Language: French only

Notes: Decitre is a moderate-sized French bookstore chain located in the Rhône-Alps region; decitre.fr is their web presence. The manga list looks pretty good, about at the level that bol.fr had gotten to before their demise. Prices are the usual 5% discount off the French cover price. If you can keep your order within the right limits, they offer some of the cheapest shipping around nowadays.

The web site is decent, with cover scans of most volumes. There are a few quirky bits, notably that they "disconnect" you after a fairly short idle period (25 minutes). However, if you don't dawdle too much, it works fine.

Service has been very good: very responsive to requests and fairly fast delivery.



Name: Fnac fnac
URL: http://www.fnac.com
Location: Paris, France
Shipping: The only shipping option I can find currently is for Chronopost priority service (around 2-5 day delivery), at 15 EUR per order + 1.85 EUR per article. For 8 books, this is around US$29.80.
Language: French only

Notes: Fnac is a French book/record/etc. store chain, sort of a cross between Borders, Tower Records and Circuit City. (It was founded many years ago by a Trotskyite idealogue, for what it's worth.) Definitely worth a stop if you're in France with some francs to get rid of. As for their online storefront, they, like Alapage.com, use the Planète Livre book database. Hence, their stock of mangas is decent, though occasionally spotty - good for recent titles, but not so many older ones.

Again, the prices are good for what they have, with a standard 5% discount. Fnac runs an active online store, with front and back cover scans and weight information for most titles. Their search interface and store front are basically OK, but lately have been cramming in advertising at absolutely ridiculous levels. (When you bring up the information page on a book, more of the page is devoted to advertising other unrelated stuff than it is to giving you information about your book!) The biggest downside, of course, is with the still fairly brutal shipping rates. Hopefully they will reinstitute more affordable (even if slower) options for their proletarian brethren in the near future.



Name: Furet du Nord/Lalibrairie.com furet.lalibrairie.com furet.lalibrairie.com
URL: http://www.furet.lalibrairie.com
Location: Lille (physically) Montmelian (virtually), France
Shipping: Shipping to North America (via Chronopost) seems to be a fixed fee of 9 EUR, for any order size. This is around US$11. Delivery time is quoted as 2 to 5 days.
Language: French only

Notes: Furet du Nord is an independent chain of bookstores centered around Lille (in the northeast of France). La librairie is some sort of cooperative effort between a number of such small independents to provide a web presence. I list Furet du Nord in particular because they have a good manga selection and extremely cheap shipping. Definitely worth a look.

What's the catch? For the most part, their books are at list price (without the typical 5% discount). So if you're pinching the pennies, you'll need to see how the lower shipping/higher price tradeoff works for you.



Name: L'Antre des Dragons L'Antre des Dragons
URL: http://dragons.enfrance.com
Location: dot.com heaven? (was Bordeaux, France)
Shipping: N/A
Language: French

Notes: Email/fax/phone ordering only. The web site stopped being updated several years ago, and has now vanished. I don't know how they are for mangas, but some people swear by them for B.D.s.



Name: Le Valet d'Coeur Le Valet d'Coeur
URL: http://www.levalet.com
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Shipping: CA$5, around US$3.88 (for "light" shipments; heavier ones are charged more)
Language: French and English

Notes: More oriented toward gaming, but does have a list of a few French manga titles. However, the list was last updated "2 Aout 19101," so I'd email them first before trying to order anything. I haven't tried this place, but if it's really CA$5 a shipment, it would be great.



Name: Librairie Garneau Librairie Garneau
URL: http://www.garneau.com
Location: Quebec (18 different branches)
Shipping: See Renaud-Bray.
Language: See Renaud-Bray.

Notes:

Garneau has been bought out by Renaud-Bray, q.v.



Name: Librairie Marché du Livre Librairie Marche du Livre
URL: http://www.marchedulivre.qc.ca
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Shipping: For Canada, CA$5 per shipment + CA$1 per article. For the eastern US, CA$6 per shipment + CA$1 per article. For the western US, CA$7 per shipment + CA$1 per article. 8 books to the eastern U.S. works out to be around US$10.85. 15 titles max/shipment (this is a limit of their ordering interface).
Language: French only

Notes: Now has online ordering, and a decent, up-to-date collection. I found the Java-based storefront a little creaky at times, but it did work. Shipping rates look very good, but of course Canadian prices on manga are a bit higher.



Name: Librairie On Line librairieonline.com
URL: http://www.librairieonline.com
Location: dot.com heaven? (was Boulogne, France)
Shipping: N/A
Language: French only

Notes: Librairie On Line seems to have vanished or possibly never quite got off the ground. In any case, its web site is now gone.



Name: Mangastore (Teshima France) Mangastore
URL: http://www.mangastore.com
Location: Rueil-Malmaison, France (outside Paris)
Shipping: Shipping now is semi-fixed by price: 20 EUR (around US$24.63) for economy shipping for orders up to 75 EUR (4 weeks), with 1 EUR added for each additional 7.50 EUR. For priority shipping (2 weeks), it's 35 EUR (around US$43.10) for the first 75 EUR, 1.50 EUR for each additional 7.5 EUR.
Language: French only, though they will correspond in English

Notes: Complete online store, active and up-to-date. The book prices are very good (the usual 5% off French cover price, plus occasional special deals, plus they've always refunded TVA for me). Mangastore's inventory is the most complete around, with almost every French manga title ever published.

Kaeta! Mangastore has recently revamped their store interface, offering more information and cover and sample pages scans for most offering. The searching/ordering interface has improved considerably as well, to the point where it's as functional as anyone's - perhaps without all the refinements of an amazon.fr, but without all the errors in listings, either.

All in all, it currently seems one of the best options, especially if you're looking for less common titles. Service has been good; not the fastest around, but they do get every title you order.



Name: Mix-Image Mix-Image
URL: http://www.mix-image.com
Location: Lausanne, Switzerland
Shipping: Shipping charges are based on weight; for 1-2 kg (around 7-8 books), economy service, it's 34CHF (around US$27.20).
Language: French and (mostly also) English

Notes: Complete online store, active and up-to-date. Cover scans for all manga. Shipping has been quite fast, even for economy service. Mix-Image's searching and ordering interface is basic, but quite functional. The prices are the Swiss cover price, which because of changing exchange rates have drifted somewhat above the French cover price. (The price you pay is a bit less than the listed price, because 2.3% VAT will be deducted.) Selection is good, with pretty much everything except some Tonkam titles. A decent choice even for small orders, unless the Swiss franc goes rocketing upward again!



Shin! Priceminister
Name: PriceMinister
URL: http://www.priceminister.com/
Location: Paris, France
Shipping: 3.80-8.80 EUR for the first article, 1-1.50 EUR for succeeding ones
Language: French

Notes: PriceMinister is a used book, etc., marketplace. This is only one of several such operations, but seems to have the best selection of manga based on my very cursory inspection. Out-of-print editions show up regularly, even Samourai titles. Most books are around 50% of the cover price. It's currently only open to residents of Western Europe, so those of us stateside will have to hold off for now.



Name: Protoculture Catalog Protoculture
URL: http://www.protoculture.ca/Catalog/InStock.htm
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Shipping: Included in item price (around 30% of cost)
Language: French and English

Notes: This is a small operation run by Claude Pelletier, publisher of the magazine Protoculture Addicts and occasional contributor to the French and English manga newsgroups. He was the first North American source (that I know of) for Manga Player and Tonkam titles. For shipping to the U.S., you pay the listed cost in CA$ in US$. The exchange spread is then what covers the shipping.



Name: Renaud-Bray Renaud-Bray
URL: http://www.renaud-bray.com
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Shipping: For shipping to the U.S., it's CA$7 for the first article, CA$2 for each additional. Around US$16.28 for 8 books. For Canadians, things are a lot cheaper - in the eastern half (Ontario and onward), it'd be CA$6.50 or around US$5.04 for those same 8 books.
Language: French and (mostly also) English

Notes: Complete online store, active and up-to-date. Cover scans for most manga. Just when I had pretty much given up on Quebec as a manga source, Renaud-Bray comes along to restore my faith in the wisdom of NAFTA. A very good selection of manga, including most Tonkam, Manga Player and Pika titles. Shipping rates are extraordinarily good for most Canadians; for Americans, they're decent though not exceptional. Prices seem generally around 10%-20% higher than the European stores.

My take at this point is that for Canadians, Renaud-Bray is quite likely to be your best choice: about as cheap as anywhere else, factoring shipping into account, and much, much faster. For Americans, things are less clear; the net total is still likely to be a bit higher than the European options. I guess we need to let those Mexican trucks in to cut shipping rates a bit more.



Shin! Tonkamshop
Name: Tonkam Shop
URL: http://www.tonkamshop.com/
Location: Paris, France
Shipping: Outside of Europe, 21.50 EUR for 1-9 articles, 25 EUR for 10+
Language: French

Notes: They've been threatening it for some time, but Tonkam finally has the online version of their store fully up and operational. A complete selection of their own titles, of course, but good coverage of other publishers too. They also carry videos, untranslated manga, art books....



For other French bookstores check out these lists:


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