France sets book delivery charges to help stores struggling against Amazon

Ahead of today’s presentation of France’s 2023 budget to the Council of Ministers – the first for the Macron government since losing parliamentary majority – the French government has announced that it will introduce a minimum fee for book delivery orders below €35.

This €3 minimum fee will help small independent booksellers struggling to compete with Amazon and other big online retailers.

“This will adapt the book industry to the digital age by restoring a balance between major e-commerce platforms offering virtually free delivery of books regardless of order size. Bookstores cannot compete with these delivery prices,” France’s culture and finance ministries said in a joint statement.

“The €3 delivery fee is not a deterrent for book buyers, and the €35 threshold will encourage bulk orders, which is beneficial from an environmental point of view.”

On your websiteThe French culture ministry describes the book market as “the first of the cultural industries” and says small, local shops are particularly important to the industry.

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A report delivered to the French Senate last year notes that both Amazon and Fanc account for 80 percent of online book sales in France and that the dominant position of these companies allows them to offer free shipping, undercutting competitors.

It is estimated that there are around 3,500 independent bookstores in the country.

Another chapter…

This isn’t the first time the French government has taken action to create a level playing field.

France has imposed fixed book prices with a maximum discount of 5 percent since 1981 and extended this law to e-books in 2010.

In 2014, the French government introduced a law banning free book deliveries, but Amazon and other providers like Fnac responded by charging a token 1 cent per delivery. Local bookstores typically charge up to €7 to ship a book.

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In December 2021, legislation was passed to close the one-cent loophole through a minimum delivery fee, but the legislation could not come into effect until the government decided on the level of that fee.

pandemic aid

During the pandemic, the French government introduced shipping coverage for independent bookstores to encourage distance selling.

Then-Ministers for Economy and Culture, Bruno Le Maire and Roselyne Bachelot, announced in November 2020 a mechanism to help booksellers continue their activity through online sales. The state bore the cost of shipping books during lockdown, so booksellers could only charge their customers for shipping at the legal minimum rate of €0.01.

Bruno Le Maire said that the government is “fully mobilized to support local businesses affected by the crisis” and that the new device “enables independent booksellers to develop their distance selling activities with no difference in delivery costs with major digital platforms “.

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Bachelot explained at the time that by taking over the shipping costs, “the state is backing the bookshops again, restoring fair competition and promoting their long-distance sales”.

What now?

According to Reuters, France must now notify its plans to the EU and can introduce the minimum fee six months after approval by the European Commission.

The association of French bookshops SLF (Syndicat de la librairie française) released a statement on Friday 23 September saying the €3 fee was insufficient as it means bookshops are still selling at a loss when they deliver books to customers. SLF has asked the government to reduce French postal fees for sending books.

The French government is presenting its budget today, Monday 26 September.

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