France goes after Amazon’s books business

A French bill would set minimum rates for book deliveries, raising prices from near-zero for companies like Amazon.

PARIS — Who remembers that Amazon used to be an online bookshop? Well, France does.

In a fresh swipe at the e-commerce giant, French lawmakers will this week examine a draft law that would effectively stop Amazon from offering virtually free delivery for book purchases — a major selling point for the online platform versus traditional bookstores.

The draft law, which comes from the Senate and has the backing of President Emmanuel Macron himself, aims to protect brick-and-mortar shops from competition with Amazon, which has left them reeling. It's the latest in a series of moves designed to shore up local culture against foreign tech firms, which has included backing press publishers against Google and Facebook, and supporting TV broadcasters against Netflix.

"The objective is to reduce the distortion of competition between online players who can offer book deliveries at one cent, and the others," said Géraldine Bannier in an interview. Bannier, an MP from Emmanuel Macron's allied party MoDem, is in charge of the bill in the lower house.

The text, which will be reviewed by the National Assembly's culture committee on Wednesday, is slated to require a minimum rate for book deliveries. In other words, Amazon's promise of virtually free shipping for books would no longer be legal in France.

The U.S. e-commerce giant is opposed to the new rules, according to multiple French officials, who said the firm was lobbying against them.

Amazon declined to comment for this article.

French politicians have long defended independent bookstores against the U.S. tech company — once described by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo as "the death of bookshops" — and some have even called for Amazon boycotts.

Between 2006 and 2019, the market share of France's 3,300 independent bookshops has reportedly decreased by almost 3 percentage points because of the competition of online retailers such as Amazon and Fnac. During the first coronavirus lockdown, bookshops also had to close — but were labeled "essential businesses" in early 2021 and allowed to remain open. In 2020, one out of five bookshops lost more than 10 percent of revenues compared with 2019.



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