France’s crusade to protect independent booksellers against huge online retailers was stepped up on Friday as the government proposed a €3 (£2.66) minimum delivery fee for all online book orders of less than €35.
The government’s fixed fee for online deliveries is part of a quest to support independent bookshops against the domination of big tech firms, such as Amazon.
France is seeking to stop what ministers have called “distorted competition” against independent bookshops from online firms who deliver books for a charge of as little as €0.01.
Legislation was passed at the end of last year to close the legal loophole.
French law had banned free book deliveries six years ago. But a loophole had allowed Amazon and other big online companies to get round the rules by charging just a single cent for shipping a book.
In contrast, independent bookshops, in order to keep their narrow margins, had to charge much higher post-office prices when delivering books, sometimes rising to €7.
On Thursday, the government moved to set more of a level playing field by fixing a minimum of €3 for orders under €35 – the delivery price suggested by the postal regulator. During a long consultation process, Amazon had favoured a lower fee and independent bookshops had pushed for a higher fee of at least €4.50.
The culture and finance ministries said in a statement: “This will adapt the book industry to the digital era by restoring an equilibrium between large e-commerce platforms, which offer virtually free delivery for books whatever the order size, and bookstores that cannot match these delivery prices.”
The move is part of the French notion of “cultural exceptionalism”, which has long sought to shield books and independent booksellers from the ravages of free-market forces.
In contrast to the UK’s famous three-for-two deals on novels, French law requires that publishers set the price of new books so readers pay the same whether they buy online, from a big high-street shop or a small bookseller. The law allows a maximum discount of only 5%. It has helped preserve France’s 3,500 independent bookshops – more than three times the number in the UK – which account for 12,000 jobs.
France will notify the European Commission of its plan for the minimum delivery fee, which will take effect six months after the EU grants approval.