A surprising and somewhat macabre cottage industry has emerged in the wake of the January 7 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris that left eleven dead and eleven injured — the sale of back issues and questionable souvenirs. The post-attack issue, featuring a cartoon Muhammad holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign beneath the headline “Tout est pardonné” (all is forgiven), sold a record 7 million copies around the world, and a robust internet aftermarket emerged to meet the overwhelming demand. On Sunday, Upper West Side bookstore Book Culture sold out of its copies in a matter of hours, and while that store’s sales of the issue profited only Charlie Hebdo and the victims’ families, some vendors aren’t nearly so principled.
On Craigslist, about twenty enterprising sellers are offering Issue 1178 (“Je suis Charlie”) for between $35 and $1,500, and a handful of vendors (presumably the same people who sell lists of New York apartments for rent and magic cancer cures) are selling a PDF file for between $3 and $5. One ad includes a link to Charlie Hebdo Shop, a twee dedicated e-boutique from which one can purchase either an original hard copy ($99) or the PDF file ($5). On eBay, there are a whopping 434 active listings ranging in price from a penny to $120,000, many of which have abundant bids.
Post-massacre issues seem to be saturating the online market, but the issue said to have incited the attacks (Issue 1011) is far scarcer. Two Craigslist vendors are offering the controversial issue, one for a half-million dollars, the other for a comparatively cheap $10,000. According to the seller of the former, who identifies himself as Patrick Legrain — and who, despite listing the item on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, apparently lives in Paris — it’s still available for purchase. In an email, however, Legrain says he has received at least one offer for his asking price.
Perhaps even stranger than all the magazine issues are the offerings available on Etsy. In addition to the standard “Je suis Charlie” T-shirt selection, sellers are offering a remarkable assortment of tchotchkes: from budget-friendly pencils and pins to lampshades, decorative pillowcases, and even a “Charlie Hebdo–themed” engagement ring (because every kiss begins with senseless slaughter and censorship).
While some of the peddlers look to be trying to capitalize on a tragedy, it’s unclear just how many are actually cashing in. A January 14 eBay listing of the post-attack issue sold for $20,000 with a remarkable 117 bids, but the market appears to have dropped off since publication; current auctions have bids, but none is even close to approaching five figures. More recent auction results show outcomes between $100 and $150, and live listings show even less action.
For most, the natural reaction to this flagrant profiteering would be outrage, but Book Culture owner Chris Doeblin offered a decidedly Hebdo-worthy take: “The only sacrilege is telling people what they can’t do,” he told the Voice. “If they want to pray, they should. If they want to be Muslim, they should. If they want to sell this to make money, they should.”
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 21, 2015
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