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France targets Amazon in bid to protect bookstores

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French lawmakers to target Amazon in bid to protect independent book stores. Photo: Aurelijus Valeisa/flickr
12:40 CEST+02:00
French lawmakers unanimously approved a new bill on Thursday aimed at supporting small bookstores struggling in the face of giant online retailers like Amazon. The online giant hit back at France, saying the law was 'discriminatory'.

The bill, which was crafted by the main opposition right-wing UMP party but also has the support of lawmakers on the left, aims to put an end to what some criticise as unfair competition for traditional bookstores.

It will seek to restrict the likes of Amazon from combining offers of free deliveries with discounts of up to five percent on books, which is allowed under existing French legislation.

Amazon was scathing in its response. "Any measure aimed at raising the price of books will only reduce French people's spending power and introduce discrimination against online consumers," the company said in a statement to AFP.

The bill was unanimously adopted by France's lower house National Assembly on Thursday and was welcomed by independent bookstores like Shakespeare and Company, in Paris.

In 1981, the government ruled that editors must set a unique selling price for their books in a bid to protect small retailers, and set a limit of five percent on any discount.

"We greatly appreciate the efforts France makes in trying to protect bookstores," Shakespeare and Company's Terry Craven told The Local. "The fixed price law has helped keep us alive, which has not been the case for independent bookstores in other countries, like Britain.

"The interesting thing is that the growth of huge companies like Amazon actually creates new niches for people who look for the exact opposite, like a bookshop that is like a community where people can come in and talk to a human."

Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti has criticised Amazon's practices in the past, blasting free deliveries or the firm's policy of "tax optimisation." Filippetti made her feelings towards Amazon quite clear earlier this summer when she said the online retailer "destroys" bookshops.

"Today, everyone has had enough of Amazon, which, by dumping, slashes prices to get a foothold in markets only to raise them once they have established a virtual monopoly," Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti said.

"It is destructive for bookshops," the minister told a conference of booksellers on Monday in the southwestern city of Bordeaux.The American giant reports its European sales through a Luxembourg-based holding company, taking advantage of the tiny Duchy's relatively low corporation tax rates for earnings outside its borders.

SEE ALSO: The 10 best books about France

Amazon insists the arrangement, which has been criticised by politicians across Europe, is legal under the European Union's single market rules.

During the parliamentary debate preceding the vote Thursday, Filippetti blasted Amazon for its "dumping strategy" and for selling books at a loss.

"Once they are in a dominant position and will have crushed our network of bookshops, they will bring prices back up," she said. 

Christian Kert, a lawmaker from the main opposition right-wing UMP who tabled the bill, said online retailing was the only sector in the book market that was on the rise.

"It's hard for independent bookstores to find their place as their return on investment is very low," he said.

The French government has recently been at loggerheads with a number of American companies including Google, Yahoo! and Apple.

Last week, for instance, the country's data protection watchdog announced it would take action against Google for failing to comply with national privacy guidelines - a process that could see the US giant fined €150,000 ($204,000).

The French are not just protective over independent bookshops. They are also very protective about their language against the influence of English. The move to protect French is an ongoing battle for the language police.

Check out this list of Ten of the latest English Terms the language police want barred from French.

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