The French parliament passed a draft law on the “book economy” on Wednesday (October 6th), which provides for a minimum price for the supply of books. Since the service is no longer free, the draft law is intended to end the “distortion of competition” between the US giant Amazon and the booksellers, which is considered to be a “distortion of competition”. EURACTIV France reports.
The “minimum fee” for delivery services that are approved by the majority of the National Assembly is set by order of the ministers of culture and economics.
Books are very serious business in France. 40 years ago, the Lang Act introduced a uniform book price to protect the industry and promote reading. This new bill aims to continue that protection in an era when e-commerce has grown exponentially.
Although not explicitly mentioned in the text, the stated intention is to equate e-commerce platforms like Amazon with French booksellers.
MEP Jean-Michel Clément from the Freedoms and Territories Group welcomed the “interesting instruments” proposed in the text to “combat the distortion of competition between independent bookstores and major platforms such as Amazon”.
“Amazon practices unfair competition and bypasses the single price law for books,” added Elsa Faucillon MP from the Democratic and Left Party.
Supporting independent bookstores
The draft law also excludes free shipping: “The book delivery service may not be offered directly or indirectly free of charge by the retailer”.
So far, the US giant has been offering EUR 0.01 shipping for books in France as well as free delivery for customers of its Amazon Prime service – something that booksellers cannot afford.
“This is a measure that we have been promoting for a long time,” Guillaume Husson, General Delegate of the Syndicat de la Librairie Française, told EURACTIV.
“The Senators and MPs across all political groups agree on the general intention to balance competition between the various actors” and “to prevent this instrument of ‘dumping’ shipping costs,” he added. The bill comes from the Senate, which passed it last June.
Husson hopes this move will encourage consumers to turn to bookstores or their websites more, and to combat “a certain laziness” from people who prefer to get their orders at home while having easy access to stores because they don’t care costs.
At the request of EURACTIV, Amazon did not want to comment further, according to the CEO of Amazon France, Frédéric Duval.
Punishing the rural population
The measure “would penalize the distribution of books in our area and reading in general,” said Duval, adding that “more than half of the books bought on Amazon are bought by people living in cities of fewer than 10,000 people , and more than a quarter of people who live in cities with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. “
According to him, the rural population has less access to physical bookstores and has to “read less” or “suffer a significant loss of purchasing power”.
“It’s a bit simple because there are 20,000 bookstores in France, be they supermarkets or bookstores,” the draft law rapporteur Géraldine Bannier of the Center Democratic Movement told EURACTIV before the public session in the National Assembly. “The network is pretty tight,” she added.
According to Bannier, this minimum delivery price is an “over-the-law incentive” to encourage citizens to turn to bookstores more, even if “that doesn’t say anything”. [if this price is set] at 3 € the rural population will not order their books from Amazon ”.
Bannier noted, however, that the delivery service is especially relevant for those who live far from a bookstore. As part of the draft law, she urged that a report be included within two years that assesses the effects of the law on public access to book purchases and the book market as a whole.
Although the bill is not quite at the end of its legislative path, the consensus on the headline proposal in both chambers is likely to remain intact until it is passed.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi]