In 1981, the French parliament adopted the Loi relative au prix du livre (law on book prices), which introduced a fixed price for new books sold in France. It is often referred to as the Lang Law, after Jack Lang, the culture minister under François Mitterrand at the time.
It was a response to the growing threat posed to booksellers by chain store Fnac and supermarkets, which had been offering significant discounts on literature.
The law gave publishers the power to decide the retail price of their books, which now also applies to e-books. Booksellers are not allowed to offer more than 5 percent off the cover price. For online orders, retailers are only allowed to offer this discount if the customer collects the book in store.
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That doesn’t mean shops are never allowed to reduce prices by more than 5 percent, but there are strict rules governing when they can do so. To qualify, books must:
- have been published more than two years ago
- not have been restocked for at least six months
So if you’re after a new release, you won’t find any significant discounts.
Recently, independent bookshops have complained that Amazon is able to gain an unfair advantage by charging €0.01 in shipping fees for books ordered online. In November 2020, the government began reimbursing bookshops for the cost of deliveries, to help them to compete with online giants during lockdown.
On June 8th, the Senate adopted a bill which would fix a minimum delivery charge. The bill, proposed by the Republicans’ Laure Darcos, must now be debated by the National Assembly.
Emmanuel Macron has also argued in favour of a minimum delivery price. “The fixed price of books is a strength of the French model,” he said on a visit to Nevers in May, “because it’s what has allowed us […] to have an extremely strong literature and a fabric of independent booksellers.”
The strong legal protections mean that even pretty small French towns usually have their own independent book store.
Outside of the book trade, France also has strict rules on sales with the government setting the dates of the two periods a year in which shops can offer major discounts, the summer sales in France have just begun.
France is not the only country where booksellers are required to charge a certain price. Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands are among the European countries which have laws regulating the price of books.
Other markets, including Denmark and Norway, are regulated by agreements between booksellers and publishers. In the UK, a business agreement set a fixed price for most books until it was abandoned in 1995.