France confirms minimum home delivery fee for books

France confirms minimum home delivery fee for books

The French parliament has adopted a law to ban virtually free home deliveries of books in a clear attempt to boost indies and clip the wings of Amazon and other online booksellers.

A 2014 law specified that online retailers could not offer free book delivery on top of the maximum 5% discount allowed on new book prices under the 1981 Lang Law, but Amazon got around that by charging one centime (less than 1p) for deliveries.

The private member’s bill, presented by senator Laure Darcos and passed unanimously by both the Senate and National Assembly, provides for a minimum delivery fee that will be fixed by decree, and also covers mixed parcels of books and other goods, and loyalty cards. 

The fees—yet to be negotiated—are expected to be set at between €3 and €5 and will be paid by customers. Guillaume Husson, director of the French Booksellers Association (Syndicat de la Librairie Française), said the SLF welcomes the law, but on the condition the fees are reasonable.

“If they were less than €3, the law would be meaningless,” he told The Bookseller. “But since deliveries cost booksellers an average of €7, retail margins will inevitably be squeezed to a point,” he said. Most online purchasers in France are urban dwellers, so if they don’t want to pay the delivery for a paperback (for example), “they can always go to a bookshop", Husson added.

In other provisions, the law stipulates that online operators should differentiate clearly between new and second-hand books to avoid confusion between the two, and that local authorities may subsidise small booksellers.

The law also includes a ban on publishers competing with booksellers by cutting prices of their own titles sold through their own outlets, and a requirement for publishers to deposit a copy of every electronic as well as physical book they publish with the National Library of France (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, BNF). It allows authors and author organisations to enlist the help of the official book mediator to resolve disputes, and enshrines a 2017 agreement protecting authors from publishers going bankrupt, losing out from returns and offsetting royalties between their different titles.

In a statement, the French Publishers Association said that by completing existing legal provision on deliveries, the law “closes an important economic as well as symbolic debate”.