Delay for France's 'anti-Amazon' bill

Delay for France's 'anti-Amazon' bill

A bill banning free deliveries of books carrying the 5% discount allowed under the French 1981 fixed book price law should have been passed last week, but has been delayed by several months while it is being vetted by the European Commission (EC).

The ban is aimed at Amazon, which the French Booksellers Association (Syndicat de la Librairie Française, SLF) accuses of dumping by losing more than €2bn a year worldwide from its free book deliveries with no minimum order. The law should enable France’s 3,000-odd independent booksellers to be more competitive in distance sales, which is the most dynamic segment of the book market, the SLF said recently.

The bill has to be approved because it involves cross-border trade, and cannot become law for three months after it is submitted or six months “if a member state or the Commission issues a detailed opinion.”  

Collateral damage from the delay is reform of the intellectual property code (IPC) to permit publishers and authors to sign combined print and electronic rights contracts. After more than three years of stop-go negotiations, publishers and authors finally signed a framework agreement for contracts covering both digital and print rights last March. But the pact lay dormant for months because of the parliamentary logjam, and was included in the anti-Amazon bill by the government at the last minute in order to speed up the process.

However the ban on combining the 5% discount on retail book prices and free deliveries will have little impact, according to market research firm Xerfi. This is because of technicalities in calculating the cost of deliveries, and because most consumers are not aware of the fixed book price law and consider Amazon a discount retailer.

For Xerfi, French independents need all the help they can get. In their latest study, it predicted that Amazon would become the leading French bookseller by 2017, and that independents would be the big losers to online and electronic vendors, with “no margin for manoeuvre” to increase their minuscule or negative profits margins in the next three years.

Indies, of which only 10% sell e-books, are expected to see their market share drop by 3.5 percentage points from 2012 to 38.5%, while major cultural product chains such as Fnac and Espaces Culturels Leclerc should maintain their share at 32%.

E-book sales totaled €190m or 4.5% of the book market in 2013, and should continue to rise by between 9% and 29% a year to between 6.5% and 12% of the book market 2017, Xerfi said. The print book market fell by a nominal 2% in 2013, and should continue to decline by 1% a year to €3.8bn in 2017 from €4bn.

In one move to help shore up independents, the government plan to provide €9m in interest-free loans to indies, announced last March, recently had the go-ahead from the National Book Centre (Centre National du Livre, CNL). Of the total, €4m will help bookshops when they change hands and €5m will help those with cashflow problems.