By Hugo Beniada, Fueled
After taking aim at U.S. Internet giants, including Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc., France’s new target is the online retailer Amazon.com Inc.
Last month, the French Senate has approved the so-called “Anti-Amazon” law, aimed to protect local book retailers. Basically, this law modernizes a 1918 law that established a fixed price for books sold in France. The Lang law, which carries the name of Jack Lang (the Minister of Culture of that time), enables book retailers to only discount up to 5 percent below the publisher’s price.
Currently, growing online retailers such as Fnac and Amazon are cumulating free shipping, plus the five per cent discount to sell their books. As an inevitable result, many physical book retailers that had to face limited resources–as well as other charges–suffered the rise of ecommerce and unfortunately had to closed their doors.
France has the biggest bookstore network in the world, composed by 35,000 independent ones, and denounced a dumping from Amazon. Not that strange for a country globally known for its permanent contestations.This is in addition to the fact that Amazon bills from Luxembourg, a tax haven that is the subject of many famous French controversies.
Because of the “Anti-Amazon” law, online retailers won’t be able to cumulate free shipping and the five per cent discount anymore. Starting within the next few months, they’ll have to start choosing between both. However, shipping discounts can be discounted from five per cent. Basically, if a book is sold at $20 online with a $5 shipping costs, the retailer can decide to reduce these costs by $1 so that the client will now have to pay $24.
The current French Minister of Culture, Aurélie Filippeti, is far from eliciting unanimity. Well, if we take a look at the repartition of book sales in France, it seems like the government is tackling the problem from the wrong end. Cultural shops, such as the leader Fnac, represent 25 per cent of market shares. Hypermarkets (Auchan, Leclerc) own approximately 20 per cent of the market and exclusively focus on bestsellers, as much as independent bookshops. E-shopping only represents 10 per cent of the market. Assuming Amazon is the only player in this industry, it appears the law won’t make a huge difference.
Created to preserve France’s cultural exception, the government happens to really forget about the primordial access to Culture with this law. French rural inhabitants don’t always have the chance live right next to a bookshop. Driving to the closest bookshop and paying for gas seems to be really more inconvenient than waiting for a book to be delivered for free to your mailbox. Personally coming not far from a rural area in France, I know what a huge amount of time some people have to spend just to get a simple bottle milk and a baguette. As there are obviously many more boulangeries than anything else in France, imagine how long it could take them to get a book.
Another argument that often comes up when French people give their opinion about that law, is the amazing services that Amazon has to offer. After all, Amazon is a global player capable of proposing the biggest catalogue, in addition to a two-day delivery. These are the reasons why people go to Amazon and, even if they have to pay four extra euros to be delivered, they are the reasons why French people will keep on ordering a book from this website. In a way, trying to change French habits will be anything but useful.
Being stuck between France’s conservative background and trying to evolve is something that we, French people, are particularly good at. Here, seeking to save local bookstores is a good thing but it shouldn’t stop ecommerce from developing in the country. On the flip side, a glance at French publishing houses’ margins would be enough to figure out how bookstores can be saved.