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In a bid to protect France’s independent bookshops, the French Senate on Wednesday night approved a bill that would ban online book retailers from offering free delivery.
France has long protected small booksellers. Since 1981, a law has banned discounts on new books of more than five percent of the cover price, which effectively stops large chains from engaging in aggressive price wars with their smaller rivals.
But with huge growth in online sales, especially from Amazon, the game has changed.
Traditional booksellers in France claim Amazon and other web-based retailers are subjecting them to unfair competition by offering new books with a five-percent discount as well as free shipping.
The bill passed by the Senate, which was approved by France’s lower house of parliament in 2013, will forbid companies like Amazon from shipping to France for free.
Put forward by the centre-right opposition UMP party, the bill tweaks one clause in the existing 1981 legislation, forbidding retailers from offering the discount and free shipping at the same time.
It has enjoyed rare near-universal support across the political spectrum, both in the National Assembly and in the Senate. With the additional amendment, the bill now goes back to the National Assembly for final approval.
France has one of the highest number of traditional book shops in the world – with a total of 3,500, of which around 800 are single independent businesses.
This compares with the United Kingdom – which has less than 2,000 bookshops – whose numbers are being steadily eroded by web competition.
In France, book sales have slumped, with a 4.5 percent drop in 2012 compared to the previous year, according to government figures.
Data also showed that 17 percent of all book purchases in France were now online, and that figure was growing. In 2003, it was just 3.2 percent.
The new legislation is also unlikely to be the last of Amazon’s woes in France. Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti has blasted the online retail giant for dodging French taxes by basing its operations in Luxembourg, and has said the government is looking at new ways to tax online players such as Amazon and Google.