France wants to shield its book industry from Amazon

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Sophie Fornairon, owner of La Librairie du Canal bookstore, poses at her bookstore in Paris during an interview with Reuters when French lawmakers voted on a bill aimed at preventing Amazon from delivering books for free and keeping traditional bookstores ahead of competition to protect. France, October 21, 2021. REUTERS / Sarah Meyssonnier

  • New laws would require a minimum shipping fee for new books
  • Amazon delivers books for 1 centime in France
  • Says the legislation will punish those in rural areas
  • Paris calls for a law to regulate “distorted competition”

PARIS, Oct 25 (Reuters) – Sophie Fornairon’s independent bookstore survived the rise of Amazon thanks to a French law prohibiting discounts on new books like hers.

Fornairon, owner of Canal Bookstore in central Paris, now hopes that a new law setting a minimum price for book deliveries will spark competition in the neighborhood shops’ battle against Amazon (AMZN.O).

“It’s a fair return to a level playing field,” said Fornairon, who has four employees. “We don’t run the risk of closing anytime soon, but Amazon is in a constant battle.”

Amazon said the bill, passed by parliament but not yet in force, would penalize those in rural areas who cannot simply visit a bookstore and rely on delivery.

“The introduction of minimum shipping costs for books would put a strain on the purchasing power of consumers,” Amazon said in a statement to Reuters.

This is an undesirable consequence that government officials are wary of at a time when President Emmanuel Macron’s administration struggles to stave off growing dissatisfaction over rising energy prices six months before the elections.

In the land of Victor Hugo and Simone de Beauvoir, where local bookstores are run with particular affection – they were viewed as “essential businesses” during the last COVID lockdown – the move is the latest move by the state to turn national culture against big tech companies protection .

More than 20% of the 435 million books sold in France in 2019 were bought online and the market share of France’s 3,300 independent bookstores has slowly declined due to competition from online retailers such as Amazon, Fnac (FNAC.PA) and Leclerc.

Macron’s support helped get legislation that doesn’t target Amazon by name across the line. The minimum fee has yet to be negotiated with the regulator.

“DISTORTED COMPETITION”

French law prohibits free book shipments, but Amazon got around this by charging a single cent. Local bookstores typically charge around $ 5-7 euros ($ 5.82-8.15) to ship a book.

Amazon’s pricing strategy has led to a growing market share for a single operator, the Ministry of Culture announced.

“This law is necessary to regulate the distorted competition in online book sales and to prevent the inevitable monopoly that will arise if the status quo persists,” the ministry told Reuters.

Center-right Senator Laure Darcos, who drafted the law, opted for the minimum delivery fee as she watched bookstores keep 70% of their business up, despite being forced to close during the early COVID lockdowns because the government was breaking the bank Shipping costs reimbursed.

“It showed how much postage costs for local bookstores are holding back business,” said Darcos.

Amazon has cracked down on the legislation out of concern that the French move could set a precedent, the senator said.

France’s bookstores are concentrated in cities. Amazon said selling books online has given consumers equal access regardless of where they live.

Virtually free delivery allowed rural book lovers to buy books for the same price as someone who could walk into a bookstore – just as the 1981 law said.

When asked when the law would come into force, the Ministry of Culture declined to give a date because it was too early to say.

Fornairon, the bookstore owner, the steady stream of US tourists through her door was a constant reminder of the protection French law had already placed on businesses like hers.

“They tell me, ‘We didn’t even know there were independent bookstores,'” she said.

($ 1 = 0.8593 euros)

Reporting from Elizabeth Pineau, letter from Richard Lough; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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