back to article French Senate passes anti-Amazon amendment

France's Senate has passed an amendment to the “Lang Law”, a 1981 statute fixing the price of books, to prohibit online booksellers offering discounting and shipping books for free. La Cinquième République and Amazon have been fighting over this issue since 2008. Last year, things flared up again when an amendment to the Lang …

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  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Holmes

    République du Bisonoursland!

    Pretty sure citoyens will be very happy about the egalitarian decision to have to pay more to get their book fix. And a strike by postal workers protesting the work énorme of throwing packages over fences all day from 09:00 to 16:00 will have been averted.

    It's for their own good. A redistributive measure, so to say.

    Come to think of it, with VAT on books at 5.5% in France and 3% in Luxembourg, why not order at amazon.lu right next door? What's this? It doesn't exist? Pity.

    1. hitmouse

      Re: République du Bisonoursland!

      There is the large Francophone selection at amazon.ca

  2. Anonymous Blowhard

    Vive la (price) différence!

    Or maybe not?

  3. G2

    ok.. who sets the base reference for prices?

    Amazon: ok.. so.. no more free shipping allowed?.. ok..charge them 0.01 €cents (no..not using verizon math there)..

    Amazon: ok.. no discounts more than 5%?... 5% relative to WHAT?.. who sets the base price used for calculating discounts? Answer: we (mostly) do, so instead of discounts >5% we'll start seeing the regular, non-discounted prices dropping...

    Is there a law in France that states that regular, non-discounted prices have to be above a certain value?

    1. AndyS

      Re: ok.. who sets the base reference for prices?

      Most books have an RRP printed on the back, which is presumably set by the publisher. This presumably uses a fixed-ish ratio to wholesale price. This is certainly the price Amazon use to mark themselves against. Adjusting it would either mean lowering the wholesale price, or lowering the profit available to all book sellers. Neither is as easy as Amazon adjusting a number on their website.

      This is obviously quite different from the "75% off!!!" that you see on strawberries in Tescos right through the summer (because they cost 4 times as much when they're out of season).

    2. hardboiledphil

      Re: ok.. who sets the base reference for prices?

      I can recall back in 2000 having Indian colleagues who would fly home with empty suitcases and bring back loads of IT related books as even at RRP over there they were a fraction of the cost of UK RRP and still significantly less than UK discounted price. Publishers are very fussy about regions and licences - hence why we have strange things like we can buy versions of books in airports that we can't buy on the high street.

    3. Chad H.

      Re: ok.. who sets the base reference for prices?

      G2, the solution is even easier. Amazon simply stick on a redirect on Amazon.fr that says "Amazon France is closed, but good news, Amazon Luxemburg is still open, and thanks to the free movement of goods and services in the EU, we ship to France".

      Job done.

    4. captain veg

      Re: ok.. who sets the base reference for prices?

      "Is there a law in France that states that regular, non-discounted prices have to be above a certain value?"

      Effectively, yes. It is illegal to sell at a loss. Sometimes you see signs in supermarkets stating that a price is the "lowest authorised".

      -A.

  4. Tel

    What with all the highly restrictive and protectionist trade practises in France, no wonder they didn't get so badly hit by the downturn as the rest of the world.

    They were already f*cked anyway.

  5. Tringle

    This'll be like most of the laws the socialists have tried to pass - ecotax being the most prominent example - dead in the water before it is implemented. That's the great thing about La Belle, the politicians bluster and threaten and sometimes actually do pass laws, but no-one pays any heed to them even if they do.

    1. JLV

      >dead in the water

      Would be good if it was true. However, never underestimate the French capacity for dumb regulations to protect the vested interests of small constituencies at the expense of everyone else.

      As far as books go, the Lang law unfortunately works just fine. It brilliantly manages to keep costs artificially high in bookstores for just about any books in France.

      The people who benefit? Mom & pop bookshops, often tiny things with a fairly shabby selection of crappy SAS paperbacks (no, the Brit SAS), other mindless drivel and tobacco products. Many of them would not know a good book if it fell on their head. The overall effect is that of a large distribution of airport bookstore quality level establishments, well away from airports.

      As a result, I used to find that French books, imported in Quebec were cheaper than in France.

      If one considers reading and knowledge acquisition to be essential to competition in the modern economy, you can see exactly how clever keeping book prices inflated is as government policy.

      Mais, vous savez, le Amazon est Amerloque, donc evil. Sacre bleu! Maintenant il faut reglementer le Kindle, because that ees free sheeping too!

      1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

        Re: >dead in the water

        > It brilliantly manages to keep costs artificially high in bookstores for just about any books in France.

        In stores, pocket books in France are about 1/2 the price they are in the UK and 2/3 of the price they are in Canada. I should know, I've lived in all three. Nice try, perhaps you'll want to test your luck again next time?

        > Mais, vous savez, le Amazon est Amerloque, donc evil. Sacre bleu!

        There are plenty of French online booksellers. In fact, Amazon is a very minor player in France, most of the market for that is owned by the very French FNAC (and to a smaller extent by the decidedly-not-Amerloque Virgin)

      2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

        Re: >dead in the water

        > As a result, I used to find that French books, imported in Quebec were cheaper than in France.

        Complete bullshit. Not only are they almost always more expensive, but if you have them delivered from a French outlet the Canadian customs charge you an extra 20% -despite the taxes being already paid in France, and yes, even if it's labelled as a gift. Plus the 5-15 bucks commission for the so-called "broker". When in Montreal I've been sent French books as gifts that ended up costing me several times the price of the book, should I have bought it directly. How protectionnist is that?

        As for the comments on French bookstores, well. Perhaps you'll want to actually go there, for a try?

        1. JLV

          Re: >dead in the water

          Some best sellers picked @ random.

          Katherine Pancol Muchachas 3. FNAC 20 Euro, Amazon.fr 20 Euro, Amazon.ca 20 CAD

          Le capital au XXIème siècle - 23.75 Euro Fnac & amazon.fr, 33 CAD Amazon.ca

          Éléments Pour une Histoire de L'Informatique - Euro 31.03 Amazon.fr, 41.62 Amazon CA

          Un jour je m'en irai sans en avoir tout dit - Euro 19.95, 24.91 CAD

          Euro CAD : 1.45 currently

          So, slightly more nuanced than either one of us are claiming. I'll admit to that on my end.

          As far as the bookstores go, I lived in Paris for 10 years, so unless the bookseller base has had large improvements, I'll stick to my guns. Some of them are brilliant, many of them are not.

          If you like bookstores, one example that got it 110% right when I lived there is Griffe Noir. These guys don't need protection, they have plenty of customers. Mostly because they do know what they are selling and are passionate about books. Their display window traditionally had a book sitting on top of a loo (as in "this is a piece of s**t"), usually selected from a not very deserving best seller.

          http://www.librairielagriffenoire.com

          https://www.google.ca/maps/place/Librairie+Papeterie+La+Griffe+Noire/@48.809541,2.471424,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x513e91c1b16c6d04

          Overall, putting a floor on book prices is just not a very clever idea at the macro level. Richer people can absorb the cost but you don't want to make it harder for people to afford books.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: >dead in the water

          > As for the comments on French bookstores, well. Perhaps you'll want to actually go there, for a try?

          I do. Or rather, used to. The good ones have all closed in the last ten years. What's left is lots of Relays and stuff like that which are "mom-and-pop" shops in name only, being effectively a franchise that buys from a single supplier.

          Nowadays, if one wants a good French book store, with interesting new and historical books, and extremely knowledgeable owners, one flies to Jerusalem.

          Or one buys from amazon.co.uk.

  6. Gordon 11

    Does Amazon care?

    But surely Amazon runs everything via Luxembourg anyway (their accountant thinks so), so why would this worry them....

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So

    Defensive measures from Amazon.

    Book vouchers perhaps? Buy this book at RRP and we'll give you an amazon voucher worth £1.50 (or euro... don't know where euro is on my keyboard) It's not a discount it's a reward, totally different. No free shipping? Okay how about £0.01 per book (again no idea where euro is on a uk keyboard)

    And I can see them arguing that ebooks aren't books by the definition given in theruling, so they can continue offering much lower ebook prices.

    1. Steve the Cynic

      Re: So

      "again no idea where euro is on a uk keyboard"

      Wikipedia says that the UK keyboard layout puts € on AltGr+4. I use AZERTY(*), where € sits on AltGr+E.

      (*) Because I live in France and it's too much like hard work using different keyboard layouts. Because it's too hard getting UK-QWERTY keyboards over here, I switched over to AZERTY when I moved here back in 2009. AZERTY's main sin is having dead-keys for typing less common accents like circumflex and diaeresis (umlaut to you, Chuckles).

      1. N2 Silver badge

        Re: So

        Hi, I found quite a nice Qwerty at Hyper-U for €14

        N

      2. The First Dave

        Re: So

        diaeresis != umlaut actually.

        1. Irony Deficient Bronze badge

          Re: So

          The First Dave, more fully, diæresis ≠ umlaut ≠ trema.

          Diæresis is syllable division, e.g. French maïs /ma.is/ (“maize”) vs. mais /mɛ/ (“but”); English coöp, co-op /ˈkəʊ.ɒp/ vs. coop /kuːp/.

          Umlaut is vowel assimilation, e.g. the i-assimilation of German Fuß > Füße, English foot > feet.

          Trema is the ¨ mark, which is sometimes used to indicate diæresis or umlaut.

      3. hitmouse

        Re: So

        "it's too hard getting UK-QWERTY keyboards"

        I lived in France for three years. QWERTY keyboards were easily found in computer stores, and computer sections of places like Carrefour.

        Also delivery from the UK was so cheap that I generally bought computer gear direct from UK suppliers and had them delivered at minimal charge within 2 days. I also found it was cheaper and faster to buy many French products from John Lewis and have them delivered to France.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So

        > I use AZERTY

        My commiserations. :-(

    2. monkeyfish

      Re: So

      After a bit of experimentation, I can tell you that € is found with an AltGr + 4, or a Ctrl + Alt + 4. On a standard windows UK keyboard (presumably would work the same with linux, but I'm not going to take a guess at a mac).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So

        Still doesn't seem to work for me, maybe it's because this is an HP laptop rather than an actual keyboard.

      2. My Screen Name

        Re: So

        Opt + 2 on a British UK Mac keyboard.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So

        > presumably would work the same with linux

        Yup¹.

        ¹ Of course, you can modify the keyboard mapping to your taste, but that's the default.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So

      > don't know where euro is on my keyboard

      Try AltGr+4, or just type "EUR" instead.

  8. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    I live in France and I'm happy with this

    Actually I'm quite happy with that law. I live in France, and even though I don't have much time to read, when I do buy a book I don't want just "the latest thing everything is reading". If I did, I'd just be buying the Harry Potter series and Dan Brown's crap from Amazon and I would not like this law ;-)

    What I do instead is I go to the small shop next block, I flip though the book that the nice old lady carefully hand-picked, I talk about them with her. She has a nice wide selection too, including things you'd have trouble to think a nice old lady would hand-pick. That way I find a lot of hidden gems that will never make the NYT bestseller list but are arguably better that anything that does. I do pay a bit more because the nice old lady can't compete with Amazon on price... and that's part of the reason why she struggles, as some dicks do exactly what I do except they don't buy, and instead go to Amazon to get the books they were recommended by the nice old lady. Because some people will do litterally anything to save an euro these days.

    And I live in a pretty huge city; in small villages where the bokshops need to sell fishing rods to survive, if the price of books fall too much they'll just drop the books. And yes, that'd be a bad thing. People read too little as it is, and these people would NOT buy books from amazon, much less an eBook reader. They're not urbanite, they need something they can carry in their overalls' pocket all day.

    So, yeah, regulating discounts on books seems fair to me. That's already the case for... almost everything actually. The sales period is reglemented etc.

    And before you tell me "the consumer will pay more", I've been broke, for quite a long time. Second-hand books are dirt cheap, and there's a pretty special feeling about them that I kinda like. Even now I still buy some from time to time, they're comfy like a well-worn corduroy jacket.

    1. Pisartis

      Re: I live in France and I'm happy with this

      So what you're saying is, everyone in France should have to pay more for their books so that you can feel good about going into a bookshop?

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: I live in France and I'm happy with this

        If enough people felt the same way, it wouldn't matter that Amazon are under-cutting the small shops - people would still use them for the additional service.

        1. Pisartis

          Re: I live in France and I'm happy with this

          Quite. It's revealed preferences in action (ie, how people actually spend their money rather than how they say they do.)

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

        Re: I live in France and I'm happy with this

        > So what you're saying is, everyone in France should have to pay more for their books so that you can feel good about going into a bookshop?

        No; what I'm saying is that I'm tired of paying more so that the people who use bokshops as Amazon's showroom can pay less.

        Also, second-hand books; your reading skills? Update them to 1.0.

        1. Pisartis

          Re: I live in France and I'm happy with this

          My reading skills are fine thank you.

          As are my browsing skills - amazon.fr has plenty of second hand books on offer.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: I live in France and I'm happy with this

      I applaud this protecting of small local companies and hope that other Eu countries will do the same.

      They could also pass laws preventing French cars being sold in Germany, French wine in Britain and stop French workers being able to travel to those countries.

      Is there a process for just kicking France out of the Eu? Then they could form their own union with Scotland.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I live in France and I'm happy with this

      > Actually I'm quite happy with that law.

      And that's exactly the problem with the frogs. At least it's your problem, not ours.

  9. David 138

    Is there any real reason to protect a failing business? Surly this hurts the consumer rather than Amazon. That aside ebooks will eventually be the killer. and they dont need postage.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      On the one hand I agree, on the other I hate seeing every town highstreet a drab row of £-shops, takeaways and "cash-advance" places.

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      > Surly this hurts the consumer rather than Amazon.

      Amazon virtually doesn't exist in France. The market of online bookstores (and ebook readers, too) is massively dominated by the French FNAC.

      Book prices are already quite low in France (much lower than in the UK for example), because there's been quite a lot of governmental regulation going to keep them so. Penguin Book's racket would not have been tolerated in France; also, pocket books are classified as "essential items" for tax purposes, not as "luxury items". As such they're taxed ~5% instead of ~20%.

      All in all, pocket books in France are half the price compared to the UK, and ~60% the price compared to North America. That leaves very little wiggle room for the likes of Amazon (and that is probably why Amazon never really made it in the market); that also makes the brick-and-mortar shops very vulnerable: they have fixed charges and their margins are wafer-thin. Protecting them from unfair practices (such as people using them as showrooms for the loss-driven online shops) is only fair.

  10. Cipher
    FAIL

    Are the French...

    ...the last to figure out that price controls just don't work?

    If the brick and mortar bookstore goes the way of the buggy whip, the French Senate cannot stop it.

  11. BigFire

    Forget it Jake, It's Chinatown

    There's no reasoning with avowed socialists. I've stopped doing that a long time ago. Let them have their own little piece of socialist heaven and leave us alone.

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      Re: Forget it Jake, It's Chinatown

      Actually you'll find that the French Socialist party is only socialist by name; a bit like how Labour is related to actual labour, how much Democrats relate to democracy or Republicans to republic. In France there's also a party called "radical-socialiste" which is neither radical nor socialist but a group of middle-of-the-chessboard please-everyone limpwrists.

      You'll also find that "socialist" doesn't really mean what most overpondians seem to think it means.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Forget it Jake, It's Chinatown

      The problem with the french version of socialism is that they've long-expected the rest of europe to pay for it. Until very recently they were the largest net consumer of subsidies in the EU.

      The govt would quite happily be isolationist - look at their decision to run with SECAM whilst the rest of europe was using PAL, simply to ensure that there was a market for domestic manufacturers and to keep "foreign" broadcasts out.

  12. Javapapa

    Price regulation

    King Louis XIV, in an attempt to please the masses, and protect them from the evil bakers, sets the price of bread below production costs + profit, but leaves expensive luxury goods (ie, cake) alone.

    Reports soon come in that the masses are even more PO'ed, as there is now no more more bread.

    Marie Antoinette responds, "Then let them eat cake."

    No wonder they cut their heads off. One way to eliminate faulty thinking.

    1. Irony Deficient Bronze badge

      Re: Price regulation

      Javapapa, it wasn’t Louis XIV, or even Louis XVI, but the post-regicide National Convention that passed the «Loi du maximum» which set maximum prices on grains and flour. (A few months later, the «Loi du maximum général» greatly expanded the list of items subject to maximum prices; it was rescinded a year later, after the Reign of Terror had ended.) In fact, Louis XVI had taken the opposite approach with Turgot as finance minister; his introduction of a laissez-faire approach to grain sales resulted in the “Flour War” revolts in the spring of 1775, following two consecutive bad harvests. And for what it’s worth, Marie Antoinette never said that; it came from a line in Rousseau’s Confessions, which was written when she was a pre-teen, still living in her native Austria.

  13. Roger Mew

    French government trying to stop English books!!!

    Yet again the French are trying to stop us getting English books, the bookshops refuse against EU law to get us English books even though we give them the ISBN The post is different to all of the rest of the EU with Italy, Germany, Belgium etc gettin a superior post to France, just look at Amazons posting thing!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well...

    Seeing as back in April, Amazon themselves stopped free delivery to most European countries anyway, save for those with their own "local" site, I'm not sure how bothered they are about this.

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