Lawmakers from France’s lower house approved the “Bill aiming to improve the book economy and strengthen equity between its actors”, to give it its full name, which was put forward by senator Laure Darcos of Les Républicains.
The Senate passed the bill in June, and it will now return to the upper house for a second reading.
Online giants have been able to get around a 2014 law banning the free delivery of books by offering shipping at €0.01. Meanwhile it costs regular bookstores €7 on average to fulfill an order, according to the Syndicat de la Librairie Française (SLF) federation of bookshop owners.
The bill “is fully in line with the wish to return to a fixed price for books by levelling out shipping prices,” Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot said, as reported by AFP.
The 1981 “Lang Law” introduced a fixed price for new books in France, meaning you will pay the same amount regardless of where you shop, with stores able to offer no more than a 5 percent discount. Bookshops believe the spirit of this law has been undermined by the rise of online shopping, since shipping costs can make prices vary dramatically.
That is why in 2014 lawmakers voted to ban giants like Amazon from shipping books for free, but independent bookshops have since complained that the American company is still able to gain an unfair advantage.
The SLF said it had “spent years denouncing this competitive imbalance which constitutes a way around the fixed price of books and an obstacle for the presence of bookshops online.”
While the Fnac chain has lent its support to the policy, Amazon is unsurprisingly less enthusiastic about the measure.
“At a time when inflation is making a marked return and when public authorities are calling for everything to be done to stop it, do we need a law which drives up the cost of books and penalises residents of small towns and rural areas?”, Frédéric Duval, Managing Director of Amazon France, said in a statement published earlier this week.
“More than half of the books bought on Amazon are from residents of towns of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, and more than a quarter are from residents of towns of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. For them, buying online is often the only feasible solution,” Duval added.
Once the bill has passed into law, it will be up to the Culture and Economy ministries to set the minimum delivery price, along with the Autorité de Régulation des Communications Électroniques et des Postes regulator. The amount has not yet been decided, but the SLF has argued in favour of €3 to €5.
Stores will still be authorised to offer free “Click and collect” services, allowing customers to reserve books online and collect them in-store.