Ordering a book online in France is now more expensive - here is why

A new rule encouraging people to shop at local stores instead of receiving home delivery has been championed by independent retailers

Independent stores are hoping the change will give them a boost
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Ordering a book online now comes with a €3 surcharge unless the order is to a value of at least €35.

Since October 7, the rule has applied to purchases of all new books online, except for groups of books over the price threshold and those that are classed as ‘big books’ (such as certain cookbooks or artbooks).

The change was championed by independent bookstores which believe it will encourage people looking for new releases or new editions of classic works to come directly to their stores.

Despite criticism from large online retailers like Amazon – and scepticism from the EU – the law has now come into force after having been approved in April.

Law aimed at helping independent bookstores

The law follows reforms made during Covid to help encourage people to order books online from local bookstores.

A symbolic €0.01 ‘postal’ charge – the legal minimum – was put in place for online purchases of books from small and medium-sized bookstores during the Covid period with the government covering the balance.

Changes to the law in December 2021 were made to encourage people back to physical stores to make purchases of books, as well as to reduce the carbon footprint caused by home deliveries of small items.

The €0.01 charge will remain in place for orders over €35.

Bookstores hope that the move will bring more people looking for specific books to their stores to find them, and order them in-store if the book is not in stock. The €3 charge only applies to home deliveries of books, not to those ordered to be delivered then collected from a shop.

There are around 3,500 independent bookstores in France making it a country with one of the highest number of such shops.

Read more: A record number of French bookshops opened last year

Amazon against charge

In June e-commerce giant Amazon filed a claim with the Conseil d'État, France’s highest administrative court, over the proposed law.

Originally the company argued for a €1.49 charge – if any had to be introduced at all. Independent book retailers wanted the charge to be €4.50.

The French regulatory authority for electronic communications, postal services and press distribution (Arcep) said the charge should be €3, with the government taking their advice when implementing the rule.

The European Commission also cast doubt on whether the change would positively impact independent bookstores, as well as whether it would diminish publishing quality with increased costs.

Successive French governments have fiercely defended independent bookshops, and not just during Covid. Many see these as a key part of French intellectual culture.

One notable policy is the 1981 Loi Lang, which protects independent bookshops by banning discounts of more than 5% on new books.

This rule is still in place and means many people will choose a local bookstore instead of a chain, because the new book costs the same price at each location.

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