France’s National Assembly looks likely to pass a so-called “anti-Amazon” law in the next few days, a law that would force Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and other online booksellers to charge for shipping in hopes of protecting the country’s 2,500 independent bookstores.
Since 1981, France’s Lang Law has fixed prices on books set by publishers that bookstores, supermarkets and other retailers may discount by no more than 5 percent. Then-Minister of Culture Jack Lang drafted the law to protect independent bookstores from supermarket chains. That was before Amazon, Fnac, France’s largest retail chain, and others entered the market through the Internet.
Amazon and Fnac have been pricing books 5 percent below the publisher’s price, like many bookstores. But they’ve also offered free shipping on all book orders at any time, to complaints of unfair competition from bookstores.
The National Assembly and the Senate both passed versions of the “anti-Amazon” law that now only has to pass one more vote from the assembly to become law. Since the text has only slightly been modified, it is likely to pass.
That will mean online retailers will have to choose between free shipping and the 5 percent discount. If they choose to discount 5 percent, they must charge for shipping. If they choose free shipping, they cannot discount the book price.
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Whether the French will be able to save their bookstores is not clear. Just last month, France’s second biggest bookstore chain, Chapitre, filed for bankruptcy. In 2014, $12.3 million of French taxes will go toward the book industry to shield it from online competition.
The law could also influence other European nations that have adopted similar laws to France's Lang Law, including Italy, Germany, Portugal and Spain.