France sets delivery charges for online book sales to help stores compete with Amazon

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PARIS — France plans to impose a minimum delivery charge of 3 euros ($2.93) for online book orders under 35 euros to level the playing field for independent bookstores struggling to compete e-commerce giants, the government announced on Friday.

A 2014 French law already prohibits free book deliveries, but Amazon and other providers such as Fnac have circumvented this by charging a symbolic 1 cent per delivery. Local bookstores usually charge up to 7 euros for shipping a book.

Legislation was passed in December 2021 to close the one-cent loophole through minimum shipping charges, but the law could not come into force until the government decided on the amount of the charge.

“It will adapt the book industry to the digital age by restoring the balance between the large e-commerce platforms, which offer almost free delivery of books regardless of the size of the order, and the bookstores which cannot match these delivery prices,” the culture and finance ministries said. in a joint statement.

They added that France will inform the European Commission of its plan and that the minimum delivery charge will take effect six months after EU approval.

The Ministry of Culture said the three-euro fee – including tax – could not be circumvented by customer loyalty programs or joint purchases of books with other items.

He added that for orders worth more than 35 euros, online sellers could still offer a penny delivery charge.

“The three-euro delivery charge… is not a deterrent to book buyers and the 35-euro threshold will encourage group orders, which is environmentally virtuous,” the ministries said.

Amazon did not comment on Friday, but a spokesperson did refer to a statement made during the lobbying phase of the legislation when the company said a delivery charge would be a “major” driver of inflation. and would particularly affect readers in rural areas.

Bookstores in France survived the rise of Amazon thanks to a 1981 law that banned discounts on the prices of new books, but they say the US online giant’s ability to cut them on shipping still distorts the market .

French booksellers’ association SLF said in a statement on Friday that the three-euro fee was insufficient because it means bookstores will continue to sell at a loss when shipping books to customers. He called on the government to lower French postage costs for shipping books through bookshops.

More than 20% of the 435 million books sold in France in 2019 were purchased online, and the market share of France’s 3,300 independent bookstores is slowly declining due to competition from online retailers like Amazon, Fnac and Leclerc.

By Elizabeth Pineau and Geert de Clercq

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