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France Moves To Protect Independent Booksellers From Amazon 264

Posted by samzenpus
from the end-of-an-era dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Tourists often marvel at the number of rich and varied bookstores along Paris streets. Right across from Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the city's most famous independent bookstores, Shakespeare and Company. Inside, every inch of space is crammed with books and readers. The city buys buildings in high-rent districts and tries to keep a core of 300 independent bookstore by offering booksellers leases at an affordable price. 'We have to keep our identity,' says Lynn Cohen-Solal, 'because if we don't, all the shops are exactly the same in Paris, in London, in New York, in New Delhi, everywhere.' Now Eleanor Beardsley reports at NPR that the French government has accused Amazon of trying to push the price of physical books too low and is limiting discounts on books to ensure the survival of its independent booksellers. France's lower house of parliament has unanimously voted to add an amendment to a law from 1981, known in France as the Lang Law which sets the value of new books at fixed prices and only allows retailers to lower books' set price by 5%, in an effort to regulate competition between booksellers and to promote reading. Guillaume Husson, spokesman for the SLF book retailers' union, says Amazon's practice of bundling a 5 percent discount with free delivery amounted to selling books at a loss, which was impossible for traditional book sellers of any size. 'Today, the competition is unfair,' says Husson. 'No other book retailer, whether a small or large book or even a chain, can allow itself to lose that much money,' referring to Amazon's alleged losses on free delivery. Amazon spent $2.8 billion on free shipping worldwide last year to gain a competitive advantage. The bill limiting Amazon's price reductions in France still has to pass the Senate to become law. In a statement, Amazon said any effort to raise the price of books diminishes the cultural choices of French consumers and penalizes both Internet users and small publishers who rely on Internet sales."
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France Moves To Protect Independent Booksellers From Amazon

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  • Not Fair (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mrspoonsi (2955715) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @10:39AM (#45251103)
    This does not fit into Amazons plans to take over the world by selling items at cost (or below cost as is the case with some Music, and I am sure some books).
    • Re:Not Fair (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @11:34AM (#45251439) Homepage

      ...at which point they jack up the prices enough to make up for all those lost years.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by pla (258480)
        ...at which point they jack up the prices enough to make up for all those lost years.

        ...Except - They kinda don't.

        Amazon crushes the local competition by offering a lower price, period.

        TFA describes the situation as Amazon selling at a loss - Nothing more than cultural protectionist bullshit. Looking at the reality of the situation, Amazon has the buying power to make the publishers sell to them at a price where Amazon can sell below list and offer free shipping and still make a profit on the sale.
        • Re:Not Fair (Score:5, Insightful)

          by rsilvergun (571051) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @12:48PM (#45251783)
          Right, because nothing bad [wikipedia.org] has ever happened [wikipedia.org] when regional players are put out of business. Ever.
          • When regional players cannot compete even with taxpayer support (as these french bookstores are), then they should go out of business. Who says brick and mortar bookstores need to exist and we all need to pay higher prices for books in order to keep then artificially alive?

            • When regional players cannot compete even with taxpayer support (as these french bookstores are), then they should go out of business. Who says brick and mortar bookstores need to exist and we all need to pay higher prices for books in order to keep then artificially alive?

              Dirt-world stores do have an advantage that they seem to miss. One can pick up and look at a book in person before buying it, for example. The dust jacket can be a work of art, like the ones from Chip Kidd at Knopf, that you cannot get, and never will get on any existing digital device. Where they fall on their face is in some of their policies that worked fine a century ago, but are completely outdated now. Like demanding to returning unsold stock to the publishers.

              On that last one, just think about

              • The point is, people are voting with their money. It may be nice to hang out at a bookstore, but the combination of lower price, vastly greater selection (as in 1000 times greater), and convenience of shopping from home obviously wins out. One justification for keeping the physical stores around Paris might be tourism but when you put it that way - i.e they are charging the taxpayers to decorate the city with bookstores - it does seem kinda silly. It's really just a preference of the ruling elite. They don

            • by rsilvergun (571051) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @06:59PM (#45254229)
              but the problem is it's not the right answer. It's not about brick and motar, it's about there being only 1 company you buy everything from. That's Amazon's long term goal, and they're not shy about pointing it out. It's why they have so many investors even though their profit margin is so bad. The investors are expecting Amazon to drive the competition out, jack up the prices (and their profits) and then there'll be nothing anyone can do about it.

              So when you say they should go out of business, that's only true if you completely ignore what the people of France (and people in general) desire and what's in their best interests. That's fine if you're the sort who believes in dog eat dog, winner take all capitalism. For the rest of us we support the regional players anyway.

              To put it in terms that fit your world view: it's kinda like what Chairman Mao did with crops: He told everyone to double plant. A bad idea that sounds good on paper, has good gut feeling and 'truthiness'. Instead of double the food you had famine. It's the same thing with Amazon. It sounds good on paper to let the weaker players die out. And on a gut level it seems like the right thing to do. But it blows up in our faces. Instead of a cornucopia of cheap goods you'll be struggling to come up with the money for basic necessities.
        • Re:Not Fair (Score:5, Insightful)

          by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo @ w orld3.net> on Sunday October 27, 2013 @01:18PM (#45251971) Homepage

          If I can make the same product you can for less, you should go out of business.

          Amazon doesn't make anything, they just force the publishers to sell wholesale for less than they do to other vendors. Supermarkets do this to food producers as well, which similarly has put most independent grocers out of business and made out food really low quality.

          The system has failed us. We make the laws and we want diversity so that we have a choice of vendors, so it makes sense for us to fix the market. The French are merely acting to prevent Amazon becoming a monopoly.

          • The system has failed because a business charges lower prices for the exact same product than other businesses?

            • by 0123456 (636235)

              The system has failed because a business charges lower prices for the exact same product than other businesses?

              You forget. 'The system' in France doesn't exist to allow people to buy things as cheaply as possible, it exists to keep politically-connected business making fat profits at their expense.

              That system will inevitably fail as the people try to sidestep it to avoid handing over their hard-earned income to politically-connected fat cats.

          • by icebike (68054)

            Amazon doesn't make anything, they just force the publishers to sell wholesale for less than they do to other vendors.

            "Force" is a pretty strong word. I've never heard of an Amazon purchasing agent carrying a shot gun into a publishers office.
            Amazon negotiates for a lower price on a large quantity of books. The publisher snaps at the chance to sell half a million copies at once.
            Amazon sells those books taking less profit than the next retailer.

            Substitute Plastic Dog Food dishes or 10 penny nails for books and the same bulk price negotiation happens.
            Its the same product, distributed more efficiently.

            Amazon, and any bulk b

          • Amazon doesn't make anything, they just force the publishers to sell wholesale for less than they do to other vendors.

            Then shouldn't you rather be complaining about the publishers charging too much, period? People obviously want books for cheaper, and that's why the majority of them are buying from Amazon, instead of little bookstores. Because, according to what you just wrote above, Amazon is able to negotiate better prices from the publishers.

            The system has not failed you. Just leave it be, because all you'll end up doing is distorting the marketplace. As if it isn't already distorted enough with all the government re

        • by Jawnn (445279)

          The sooner we get rid of all this regional protectionism, the better. If I can make the same product you can for less, you should go out of business.

          Right, because consumer choice is so antithetical to the so-called free market...

          Cue the fan boys totally not getting this....

  • Typical (Score:5, Funny)

    by puddingebola (2036796) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @10:41AM (#45251109) Journal
    Just like the French to try and protect literature.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      to protect literature retailers.

      not literature.

      just like the french though, or texans(or what state was it..) .... with wine-index their books are still stupidly expensive though(wine index is similar to bigmac index, the amount it costs to buy wine at your local supermarket complex to get totally shitfaced).

      • Re:Typical (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27, 2013 @12:19PM (#45251655)

        But if the number of literature retailers is reduced to Amazon, selection is affected. If Amazon refuses to sell a book nobody can buy it. By protecting literature retailers France is protecting the selection of books and therefore literature itself.

        • by EdZ (755139)
          Remember that Amazon is a reseller in almost all cases. Direct sales of ebooks by publishers, and even authors, can easily bypass Amazon entirely.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Just like the French to try and protect literature.

      By forcing people to pay more for books? Since there are many other ways to enjoy your spare time, consumer demand for books is very elastic, so they will certainly consume fewer books.

      And since literature depends on people reading books and sharing their experiences, France is actually sabotaging literature.

      • Re: Typical (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Orne (144925) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @01:07PM (#45251905) Homepage

        Exactly ... as the price of books go down, the demand for books increase. This is basic Econ 101. By setting a price floor, you are limiting the ability to reach customers who would otherwise want to buy more books. If I have â100 in my pocket how many books am I going to walk out the store with?

        • by horigath (649078)

          I would assume that the theory here is that other things affect the demand for books as well. By protecting publishers, authors, and local booksellers with connections to their community, they are hoping to create cultural value on books that will encourage reading despite the prices. Those seem like reasonable goals to me.

        • Re: Typical (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ultranova (717540) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @06:03PM (#45253913)

          Exactly ... as the price of books go down, the demand for books increase. This is basic Econ 101. By setting a price floor, you are limiting the ability to reach customers who would otherwise want to buy more books.

          No matter how cheap books are, you are still only able to read one or two per day. Therefore the demand is capped. On the other hand, two books are not inerchangeable unless they're copies of the same book; even if Amazon was giving books away for free, it might still be worse deal than keeping lots of small bookstores in business and thus ensuring that a single seller doesn't have a total power to determine what books and authors get on the market.

          Maybe you should take a few more Econ classes.

          If I have Ã100 in my pocket how many books am I going to walk out the store with?

          Start with these [gutenberg.org]. If it's sheer quantity you want, that should set you up for life.

      • By forcing people to pay more for books? Since there are many other ways to enjoy your spare time, consumer demand for books is very elastic, so they will certainly consume fewer books.

        And since literature depends on people reading books and sharing their experiences, France is actually sabotaging literature.

        Actually, while I agree with you in part, I also think you're missing a fundamental part about the traditional "literary" community that France may be trying to preserve.

        The actual volume of books sold does not necessarily produce a larger "literary community." If I sell a bunch of crappy Romance novels and paperback Westerns, I'm not going to produce a group of customers that are educated in traditional "literature."

        Nor, for that matter, does it much matter even if I sold cheap paperbacks of Moby Dick

  • by bussdriver (620565) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @10:43AM (#45251115)

    The French seem to not be brainwashed by the propaganda machine enough to harm themselves as pro-WTO trade undermines careers in the global race to the bottom.

    When the robots and software start to do significant damage worldwide to jobs (it's only just beginning and some are taking notice) the French will likely be the last holdout.

    "Protectionism" is not viewed as bad everywhere; at least the marketing hasn't succeeded everywhere just yet.

    • by mounthood (993037)

      The French seem to not be brainwashed by the propaganda machine enough to harm themselves as pro-WTO trade undermines careers in the global race to the bottom.

      Wouldn't Amazon, or a "global race to the bottom" as you call them, make these book sellers more unique? They're independent, quirky, historical, experiential, and stylish ... all of which should make them more valuable in a prefab world. More generally, won't all artisan can craft endeavors become more popular if there's a "global race to the bottom"?

      • by voss (52565)

        Ironically amazon supports thousands of local bookstores selling used and new books through amazon. If you want to figure out whos back this bill
        dont look for mom and pop bookstores look for Carrefour and other french retailing giants. Amazons ecosystem is far more local business friendly than walmart or carrefour.

    • People love to selectively pick 'n choose which benefits of free market capitalism they allow themselves to enjoy and which they wag their fingers at with disdain and want eliminated. Problem is, other people may have an exact opposite set of priorities as you and push to have your luxuries eliminated instead. It can't work both ways. This is why free markets have done more to support personal liberties and choice than all the other failed 'personalized' ideologies combined. Don't tell me what I can buy and
  • While I don't think that Amazon is the be all and end all of books, big stores like Amazon and Chapters/Indigo (here in Canada) have sure done a lot to bring reading back to the masses. Maybe in a large city there's plenty of market for lots of small independant book stores, but it doesn't work everywhere. I don't even think the small town I grew up in had a real book store. And it had somewhere around 12000-30000 people depending on how the mines were doing. At best we had the popular mass market paperbac
  • This is backwards (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27, 2013 @11:11AM (#45251325)

    I'm French, and I can tell you this defense of the "paper books" is horrible. In France, e-books are typically MORE expansive than paper versions. How could that be possible? How can you argue that you make literature more accessible by imposing a minimal price?! I'm not a very "the free market will take care of you" kind of guy, but in that instance, it's just the wrong solution to the wrong problem.

    • Re:This is backwards (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hjf (703092) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @11:28AM (#45251423) Homepage

      How can you argue that you make literature more accessible by imposing a minimal price?!

      Because, like the FUCKING SUMMARY said, Amazon has very, VERY deep pockets. They are so big, they will do anything they can, legally, to capture the market (which is a nice way of saying "destroying competition").
      Amazon can put a kiosk in the sidewalk in front of a physical store and give away the same books in the store. And keep doing that until the store goes out of business. This is basically what they do when they sell books at 90% discount with free shipping. No other bookstore can do that. This is what's called "unfairness".

      But let's suppose you don't care for that. There's also the issue of amazon wanting to go all digital. Amazon is all for efficiency and they would just love to sell just kindle books, not physical ones. What will happen to all those paper books, which are too old, or are in a grey area of copyright? They will never scan and sell those. They will be lost forever, ending up with just a handful of copies scattered in a few libraries around the world. Very accesible, right?

      And of course, let's not forget about all those "banned" books. Are there any banned books in France? I don't know. Will there be? With the growing muslim population there, YES.

      • by cHiphead (17854)

        With the growing muslim population there, YES.

        Ah, there it is. The penultimate argument you can make. Post-modern racism.

        • by hjf (703092)

          Sure. "Racism". Because muslim countries are truly "free" and literature of all kinds is readily available for both men and women alike.

          Malala Yousafzai is a liar.

      • by radish (98371)

        What will happen to all those paper books, which are too old, or are in a grey area of copyright? They will never scan and sell those. They will be lost forever, ending up with just a handful of copies scattered in a few libraries around the world.

        And what would happen to them without Amazon? If they're in a "grey area of copyright" no-one's going to reprint them either. The copies which exist today are all the copies that will ever exist, scattered in a few libraries until they run out of shelf space and t

        • by hjf (703092)

          It's one thing to be preserved in a peer-to-peer, or non-profit archive.

          It's a completely different thing to be preserved in a centralized server, owned by a company that might as well go bankrupt tomorrow, and won't bother releasing all those books anyway.

        • by hjf (703092)

          Also, I forgot, many of these books are published by small editors. In Argentina you have a ton of libraries in Corrientes street in Buenos Aires. Some are big chain stores, others are small independent. The independent ones are highly specialized. Some sell only used books, others only sell legal books. Some sell books in english, others sell only books about poetry, arts, comic books. There are even huge collections of vintage porn magazines. And if Buenos Aires has a lot of libraries, I don't want to ima

      • How is this any different from the present situation? Do you think that Amazon will print books that have gone out of print because they were too old and are being kept in copyright limbo by the publisher? Do you think that independent booksellers carry those in their inventory? Obviously not since no publisher will want to reprint a book whose copyright status is not clear. That leaves used copies, which Amazon also sells. Your argument makes no sense whatsoever: if a publisher wants to keep a book in prin

        • by hjf (703092)

          Amazon doesn't sell used books. They have a marketplace of independent sellers who do that. For a minimum profit. They also bought the largest used books marketplace, Abebooks.

          My last sentence is real and you're just blind if you don't believe it. Just look at all the muslim countries. Alcohol is prohibited. Pornography is prohibited. And they can easily ban anything they want. Stupid theocracies run by fanatics. I'd like it to be just a lie, or just a bad apple among the muslim countries. But it's not the

          • France isn't a theocracy. It'd take much more than one man's decree to ban things the same way Muslim countries do. On top of that, having a large group of Muslims ban things based on their beliefs isn't bad - it's only bad when it's forced upon a large group of other people. I think it's a shitty way to live, but they're more than welcome to have their own non-fun in their neck of the woods.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Can operate on several markets, and chose one to work at a loss for years.

    In the end, all operators on that "at loss market" will go bankrupt apart from that large company (because it can keep subsidizing that market with the profits of all the other markets it is on).

    That will make the company become a de-fact monopolist by the way it uses it's size to steamroll all competitors to oblivium.

    And that has nothing to do with "free market".

  • downloading books for free...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Amazon will abuse its power once it has attained monopoly status as
    a supplier.

    I have never once bought anything via Amazon and I never will.

    Actually, I'd like to see Jeff Bezos get terminal cancer. He is a despicable
    little parasite and the world would be better off without him.

  • So a bunch of wealthy Parisians get to shop in pretty bookstores, while the rest of France pays inflated prices to Amazon, increasing their profit margins. This is win-win for special interests and the wealthy.

  • Yeah, I've noticed it in Cape Town too. Bookstores are closing or downsizing. There are fewer serious books and more "bestsellers", chick-lit, and dumbed-down stuff. I have fond memories of sitting at my stammtisch in my favourite cafe in the 60's reading French paperbacks and cutting the pages as I went. Cutting the pages: a lost experience... Ho hum. Mac
  • by Aquitaine (102097) <sam@nOspam.iamsam.org> on Sunday October 27, 2013 @02:29PM (#45252417) Homepage

    I've heard similar suggestions made in New York to San Francisco to here in Austin, which AFIAK has the US's largest remaining independent bookstore.

    Let's be honest, though. This isn't about buying books and it certainly isn't about literacy or encouraging reading. It is about the experience of having a culturally 'cool' place to go and drink coffee and browse and hang out.

    This is one of the hypocrisies of the left: they want affordable housing for everyone right up until affordable housing means building tract homes in places that might damage the 'character' of their neighborhoods. This may well be the case, but I'm not aware of how to elevate thousands of people to middle class homeownership without having a place to put them, and if you are claiming to be an ally of the working class, you are putting them at arm's length through measures like these that preserve admittedly cool perks for the wealthy urban elite while making it more difficult for your average Jean to buy books because he's not only subsidizing the rich coffee shop yuppie, his discretionary income now only permits him X-n books.

    I have a really hard time thinking poorly of Amazon for making books available to everyone at a really low cost. I do feel for the mom-and-pop bookstores, but from a socieital perspective that's a trade-off I'm willing to make. I run a business and if my business became obsolete because of something that had tremendous benefits for everybody, I'd adapt and find a new business. Ain't no guarantees in this world and statism is the tired old answer that always ends the same way.

  • by Shompol (1690084) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @02:30PM (#45252421)
    It has been 170 years since the famous petition [bastiat.org] to French Parliament to protect candle maker from unfair competition from a certain celestial body. Did they learn nothing? Why prop up an obsolete and failed industry at the expence of taxpayers, consumers and competitors?

    Maybe use that money to preserve some outstanding paper book editions? Or poll that money to create a free e-book repository to educate the masses who don't have the resources to pay for books $60 a pop? Today we have the technology to bring literacy and education FOR FREE to every ghetto and remote corner of the world, yet a certain Mikey Mouse character prefers and inifinite copyright, and universal as well (Thanks, WTO!)

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton

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