French MPs vote against free book deliveries, targeting Amazon

In France, books are a very serious business. Forty years ago, the Lang law established a single book price with the aim of protecting the industry and developing reading. [Cineberg/Shutterstock]

The French parliament adopted a bill on the “book economy” on Wednesday (6 October), providing a minimum price for the delivery of books. With the service no longer free of charge, the bill aims to end what is considered a “distortion of competition” between US giant Amazon and booksellers. EURACTIV France reports.

The “minimum charge” for delivery services voted in favour by the majority in the National Assembly will be set by order of the ministers of culture and economy.

In France, books are a very serious business. Forty years ago, the Lang law established a single book price intending to protect the industry and develop reading. This new bill seeks to continue that protection in an era that has seen e-commerce growing exponentially.

Although not explicitly mentioned in the text, the declared intent is to put e-commerce platforms such as Amazon on an equal footing with French booksellers.

MP Jean-Michel Clément of the Liberties and Territories parliamentary group welcomed the “interesting tools” proposed in the text to “fight against the distortion of competition between independent bookshops and large platforms like Amazon”.

“Amazon is practising unfair competition and circumventing the law on the single price of books”, added MP Elsa Faucillon of the Democratic and Left Group.

Supporting independent bookshops

The bill also rules out free postage, stating that “the book delivery service may in no case, either directly or indirectly, be offered by the retailer free of charge”.

To date, the US giant offers €0.01 shipping for books in France, as well as free delivery for customers of its Amazon Prime service – something booksellers cannot afford to do.

“This is a measure we have been pushing for a long time,” Guillaume Husson, delegate general of the Syndicat de la Librairie Française, told EURACTIV.

“The senators and MPs agree, across all political groups, on the overall intention of balancing competition between the various players” and “preventing this tool of ‘dumping’ on shipping costs,” he added. The bill originated in the Senate, which adopted it last June.

Husson hopes this measure will encourage consumers to turn more to bookshops or their websites and fight against “a certain laziness” of people who, despite easy access to shops, prefer to receive their orders at home because it costs them nothing.

When contacted by EURACTIV, Amazon did not wish to comment further following the statement of Amazon France CEO Frédéric Duval.

Penalising rural populations

The measure “would penalise the distribution of books in our territory and reading in general”, said Duval, adding that “more than half of the books bought on Amazon are bought by people living in towns with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, and more than a quarter by people living in towns with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants.”

According to him, rural populations would have less access to physical book outlets and would have to “read less” or “suffer a substantial loss of purchasing power”.

“It’s a bit simplistic because there are 20,000 book outlets in France, whether supermarkets or bookshops,” the bill’s rapporteur, Géraldine Bannier of the centrist Democratic Movement, told EURACTIV ahead of the public session in the National Assembly. “The network is quite dense,” she added.

According to Bannier, this minimum rate for delivery is an “incentive via the law” to push citizens to turn more to bookstores even if “nothing says that [if this price is set] at €3, rural populations will not order their books on Amazon”.

Bannier nevertheless noted that the delivery service is particularly relevant for those who live far from a bookshop. Thus, as part of the bill, she pushed to include a report that would assess the law’s impact on the public access to purchasing books and to the book market as a whole within two years.

Although the bill is not quite at the end of its legislative path, the consensus about the flagship proposal in both chambers means it will likely remain untouched until adopted.

EU court to decide on Amazon tax appeal

An EU court will rule Wednesday (12 May) on an appeal by online giant Amazon against an order that Luxembourg recoup €250 million in unpaid taxes.

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi]

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