France Says Non! To Amazon's Free Shipping

from the we-want-our-citizens-to-pay-more dept

I’ve never quite understood European laws that bans the discounting of books. It’s one of those protectionist laws that ends up harming everyone. While economically-challenged folks will say that it helps save independent bookstores, they are unwilling to admit at what cost: less innovation in the way books are sold, fewer books purchased and higher prices for everyone. And, there’s actually evidence to suggest that it really doesn’t do much to protect those independent booksellers after all. The UK ditched such price fixing over a decade ago and didn’t see the expected demise of independent booksellers. However, France is still a big believer in the concept and has now told Amazon.com it can no longer offer its famed “free shipping,” since that effectively is an excessive discount. Amazon now has ten days to start charging shipping fees, or face daily fines. In other words, ordering books online just got a lot more expensive. It’s difficult to see how that helps anyone.

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Comments on “France Says Non! To Amazon's Free Shipping”

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43 Comments
Sean says:

Harming the consumer?

But it’s not about what’s good for everyone, it’s about what’s good for the ‘Syndicat de la librairie francaise’.

I worked for a multinational that decided to enter the French card-processing scene. Instead of adapting to competition, the French card-processing-union got a court order banning us from processing French cards until we joined the union, which we couldn’t because they refused the application.

So we were allowed to process only non-French cards – e.g. big fat American corporate cards… for places like the Ritz hotel, where $100k+ bills aren’t uncommon.

So French credit-card users got screwed, and we made lots of money. AFAIK, it’s still the case.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: What free shipping?

IIRC, free shipping only applies to shipping for a certain value of goods (£20 in the UK I think), and even then only within the same country as the Amazon store.

So, an amazon.fr user could get free shipping within France (or amazon.co.uk user within the UK, etc), but you can’t get it in the Netherlands because there’s no Amazon store there…

ReallyEvilCanine (profile) says:

Gov't hands are tied

Any politician who tries to remove some of the stupid protectionism is crucified by any opponent who wants the union or guild’s support. It doesn’t matter that the policy is harmful; the perception is that small stores and jobs are saved, a false belief that far too many unions and political groups have cultivated well.

It’s not just France; Germany and other EU countries have the same sorts of restrictions. A few have been relaxed (not book prices) and slowly the gubmint is able to demonstrate the benefits. Nevertheless, groups such as the German Small Shops Union continue to scream about how longer opening hours will destroy the small stores and jobs and families and the workers believe it, never mind the fact that small shops are on their way out because they can’t compete on price, only on service.

With longer hours it’s economically feasible to stay open later than the big stores. But that might “harm the family”, never mind that the nuclear family is now also little more than a myth. The fight is about perceptions and changing them is difficult, especially when promoted by well-established and well-funded groups whose members believe in them in much the same way as religious people believe in their deities despite all evidence to the contrary.

Andy (profile) says:

Typically French

France is a truly protectionist nation. They continue to provide government funding for business which should (even according to EU law) be privatised and subject to the free market. So this is hardly surprising.

More generally, the EU, which originated supposedly as a free-trade organisation is in fact, in its commercial dealings, very much an effort to create a protectionist bloc. And worse still, it has gone way beyond its brief and is trying to suck Europe into a socialist superstate. Those of us so-called Europeans (god forbid) who value or liberty cannot understand for one moment why our idiot politicians are handing us and our freedom over for such summary execution.

DuaneA says:

An interesting parallel here in the states

I’m a boardgamer. I play board games; It’s my hobby. Not Monopoly and Candyland mind you, but real games designed for real adults, the vast majority of which come in from overseas, mainly from Germany. There are a number of companies here in the us which service the hobby by translating and releasing some of the games in English. Recently, one of those companies has decided to institute a similar protectionist policy. What they have said is that no retailer may sell their products at more than 20% off their MSRP, or risk losing their right to carry the merchandise. People within the hobby have been shaking their heads, but apparantly they mean to go through with it. Online discounts have traditionally been in the 30-35% range for these kinds of items. Here’s a link to an article on BoardGameNews about it.

ReallyEvilCanine (profile) says:

Typical uneducated knee-jerk dittohead

Bite one, Andy. The US is one of the most protectionist countries in the world. Steel and farm goods are protected. Chinese imports are limited. Beef imports are limited. Wood imports are limited.

This isn’t about protectionism in the classic sense of import/export. It’s about price regulation and ostensibly limiting competition in order to protect small businesses from their mega-sized and/or better-funded counterparts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Typical uneducated knee-jerk dittohead

indeed,
the funny part is that with this law,
ALL books are the same price WHEREVER you chose to go to buy it (there’s some eceptions).
Meaning that small books (called “poche” for pocket) are genreally less than 10 bucks a pop.
Heck I mainly get books that are imported from the other side of the pound (read from GB, I’m continental) and they’re NEVER that expensive despite the fact there’s shipping fee and all.

Case in point :
BOOKS ARE NOT EXPENSIVE,
anyone that want to read and is able to have the news (meaning through TV(which is actually expensive, with a tax of 100 bucks/year in France), web access(if memory serve 30bucks/month minimal), newspaper (~3bucks a day)) can, money is NOT the issue for anyone that want to read.

So really saying that such a law make it so the population can’t read is a moron.
Most books are less expensive than most things and cannot exactly be made cheaper in any meaningful sens (sure 3/4 bucks a pop is better, but not exactly meaningfull)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Typical uneducated knee-jerk dittohead

it indeed DOES depends,
For example, so-called books in computer field are overpriced for what they are (come on more than 80 for a “learn X languate”?).
BUT for what is generally considered culture (whatever your opinion on this) meaning Victor Hugo and the likes, it can be found for dirty cheap (even the occasionnal novel is cheap).
But really if you think it’s the law that stop the Knuth from being in price range of students, you are sadly mistaken.
http://www.amazon.fr/Art-Computer-Programming-Volumes-Boxed/dp/0201485419

And anyway for the most expansive books, the local library is here for that.
If you have no public library, the local election is round the corner. if you can’t be bothered, why the hell do you complain about the situation?

John Duncan Yoyo says:

Re: Re: Re:

If they really wanted to get back at the French they would only sell them English language books.

If I not mistaken French bookstores do not charge shipping costs as an additional fee. Amazon should press the French government to force Brick and Mortar stores to charge shipping as well or recognize that shipping is factored into the MSRP of the book. Of course this could force Amazon to have 100% free shipping on books.

jerome says:

Great!

Amazon’s free shipping is a monopolistic practice, stealing the market even from it’s own affiliate sellers on whose backs it built it’s empire. While in the short run it helps the buyer, once it’s competition has been run out of business Amazon would then be free to greatly increase the price of it’s books. The end result would be higher prices for the consumer. We’ve anti-trust laws in the USA but they’re “more honored in the breach than in the observance”. France has simply put an obstacle in the way of Amazon from becoming another Microsoft. I hope they succeed.

Da_ALC says:

Frenchy froggy fruitcakes fiddling for fairnes?

Amazon will just start free shipping to france from spain or germany. That or (hopefully) pull out of france alltogether and refuse to deal with em.

Im not anti fench at all, but this is plain stupidity, idiocy, retardicity.

Oh, STevie.R… did you not read the article.. they arent allowed to discount books.. cant shift the $2.

And Steve Peer, thats the kind fo thinking that makes chicken have 80% more fat than they did 10 years ago… Cheap dosent allways mean good. With books sure, but not most things.

How many people commenting here believe Recycled toilet paper is made from used toilet paper that is collected and recycled back into toilet paper?.

R3d Jack says:

Is there any profit

in doing business in France? At what point do businesses simply refuse to ship to any address in France? That would start a new business in Spain or some other nearby country, where those living in France could order to the other address and have their good forwarded. That would cost people living in France, but it unburdens business from having to comply with idiotic or parochial requirements. The businesses save money and protect their profits.

Ben says:

The french choose to live like this

I think almost every post here is missing the point. French publishers receive huge subsidies from the government in order to preserve French literary culture. Its the same with TV and films. Look at Canal+ it almost a branch of the government and is obliged to direct the profits it makes from football coverage into making quirky, offbeat films that no Hollywood studio would touch with a barge pole.

Don’t forget that the French people are not oppressed soviet style huddled masses. They enjoy a broad range of rich and varied culture, supported by a government they voted for. If your country is lacking something similar then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what is import in your life. Cheap stuff or good stuff, they’re mutually exclusive.

kiki jones (user link) says:

Are you really sure it's cheaper?

Amazon’s big and like most big retailers they tell us that they are cheaper… but how long does the low price last? Is it true that they are cheaper or have decades of marketing convinced us to just believe their advertising? The French government does indeed assist their ‘culture’– and many French feel that their culture is in danger. That support includes protection of traditional local business as part of a diverse economy.

It’s in the interest of all governments to slow down the shift to non-local supply of goods– non-local means wages and profits (and taxes) leaving. You only have to look at any small town in the US that formerly had a ‘superstore’ to see that the former competitors to the big box didn’t survive. What happens when the whim of big business disrupts supply by leaving the market? After all, two or three comments here on this page just suggested that Amazon abandon France. What if this happened after the stores were gone? Local retail doesn’t abandon markets– big business sometimes does.

It seems that Amazon in particular could work better with local sources by offering to match up buyers directly with a locally offered product. A big part of Amazon’s business is just to act as a sales agent. Other retailers offer buy online then pick up in store… why not Amazon? Surely this must just be a few lines of code to match up zip codes and offer a “buy it local” button.

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