Independent bookshops in France are waiting to see if the government’s proposed law to set a minimum price for book deliveries will go far enough to help them compete with Amazon and other online giants.
The government adopted a proposed law to set a minimum price per book delivery – regardless of the location or type of seller – on December 16 but the precise details of the law are yet to be confirmed.
It is expected to enter into force at the start of 2022.
The fee will be fixed by the Autorité de Régulation des Communications Électroniques et des Postes, as well as the Economy and Culture Ministries. It is expected to be between €2 and €5.
The government is set to debate the issue imminently.
Independent bookshops have hailed the law as a positive step forward, especially as many have shifted a proportion of their sales online since the pandemic.
A legal minimum price for book delivery is considered a major way for independents to compete against major retailers such as Amazon, Fnac and Cultura, which can afford to offer shipping costs as low as 1 centime. In contrast, smaller shops cannot afford the same, raising competition issues.
It is hoped that the new law will make independent sellers more competitive, and encourage customers to use local bookshops rather than seek savings at online retailers.
According to the bookseller collective le Syndicat de la Librairie Française, sending a book order by post costs a shop an average of €6.50-€7.
Guillaume Hainaut, an independent bookseller in Toulouse, told FranceInfo: “This is already progress because something has been voted. But the problem is that for the moment there is a fairly wide range of prices on offer, between €2 and €7, whereas we believe there should be a fixed price.”
A minimum legal price per book is already fixed in France, but larger retailers that can afford it have long set their delivery rate at just 1 centime per book, the lowest price allowed. Independent, small retailers cannot ship books for such a low price without cutting into their already-small profit margins.
The postage at 1 centime is likely a strategy to bypass a French law from 1981 (Loi Lang) which established a fixed price for books and limits on discounts in order to control competition and protect the bookshop industry.
The law does not take into account postage and websites such as Amazon and la Fnac often dodge their obligation to impose a delivery fee by charging just €0.01, effectively making their prices cheaper than those of physical bookshops, which are not big enough to waive such fees.
Marianne Vérité, also a bookseller in Toulouse, said: "On average for a classic book, there are between €5-€6 in costs for an independent bookseller.
“If [the government] really wants to go through with the law, to promote and help independents, they will have to define a single price for postage, and ensure it is paid as much by Amazon as by us.”
The French state covered the true cost of delivery fees for independent bookshops during the pandemic, as a means to “help them continue trading through online sales”, and enabled them to charge the minimum 1 centime to customers.