France moves against Amazon’s cheap book deliveries

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PARIS — Amazon could soon be forced to raise its book delivery prices in France.

In a fresh swipe at the e-commerce giant, French senators unanimously adopted Thursday legislation that would stop Amazon from offering virtually free shipment for book purchases.

“One operator is currently offering almost free delivery of books, regardless of the quantity and the amount of the purchase, while no other player is able to provide such a bargain to readers,” Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot told senators ahead of the vote, without naming the U.S. tech company.

“It is therefore clear that this commercial practice is a new form of price competition, which no longer allows the law on the single price of books to produce its full effect,” she added.

France has had since the 1980s a policy of a “single book price,” to protect independent bookshops from dumping practices by large distributors. Free deliveries are also technically not allowed, but policymakers are under the impression that Amazon’s €0.01 rate defeats the rule’s purpose.

Thursday’s vote is the country’s latest move in a series of initiatives targeting global tech companies’ hegemony in the cultural sector. Last week, the French audiovisual regulator announced deals with U.S. streaming platforms, including Amazon, to secure investment in French content.

Fixed delivery prices

The legislation adopted Thursday was initially drafted by the Senate and backed by President Emmanuel Macron. It aims to help brick-and-mortar shops compete with Amazon by requiring a minimum rate for book deliveries. The amount will be set by the economic and culture ministries, based on a proposal by the telecom and posts regulator Arcep. 

The Senate’s vote, which is the final stage before the text becomes law, is also the second blow for Amazon this week, as the e-commerce giant had to back away from building a warehouse in the south of France in the face of local opposition.

Amazon has unsurprisingly pushed back.

During the legislative process, the U.S. tech giant reportedly tried to kill the bill by offering to raise book delivery prices to about €2, in exchange for the text being scrapped. A lawmaker with firsthand knowledge of the matter confirmed the report to POLITICO.

The text is backed by the Syndicate of French bookshops, but also by Amazon rivals such as retailers Fnac and Leclerc, who have had to lower delivery fees and cut back on their own margins to compete with the deep-pocketed U.S. tech giant. 

A spokesperson for Amazon said that the legislation will have a negative impact on the purchasing power of consumers living in small towns where there is no easy access to bookshops.

“Today, 90 percent of French municipalities do not have a bookstore on their territory and more than 40 percent of Amazon’s book shipments are destined for postal codes without a bookstore … The cost of such a measure on the purchasing power would amount to more than €250 million per year,” the spokesperson said.

Source: Politico