As booksellers around the world continue to feel the pinch of trying to do business in an online retail climate, the French Parliament has taken action that at least intends to protect bookshops in some small way. After passing what it has dubbed the “Anti Amazon Law,” it’s now illegal to offer free shipping on books in the country.
This law is an update to a decades-old law called the Lang Law. Under that 1981 law, books in the country were sold at a fixed price, which was meant to protect small booksellers from the ravages of big box discount stores and retail chains that were already cropping up even then. Several other countries is Europe also have their own versions of the law as it applies to books, although France’s take on it did allow for up to 5% discounting on titles.
This new law, which French officials promise isn’t intended to target Amazon despite its nickname, will prevent any online retailer from offering free shipping on books. The goal is to let people shop online if they choose, but also still remove any incentive to click the mouse instead of visiting one of the country’s 3,500 bookstores, about 35% of which are owned by independent business people.
France has had a recent tradition of supporting Amazon, going so far as to absorb penalties from the EU for not charging VAT on ebooks sold within the country. However, Amazon (and many other international corporations) has come under fire in Europe for basing its operations in Luxembourg to take advantage of the lowest business tax rates in the EU. This has allowed Amazon to underscore locally owned bookshops in other places, a fact which has had booksellers and publishers alike crying foul.
This law may not be enough to protect bookshops though, many of which have not been able to stay on top of the ebook demand. Also, Amazon and other retailers have the financial power to offer the 5% discount consistently–perhaps even making it a standard policy–whereas smaller book retailers may not have the means to drop prices just because Amazon did.