France ties Amazon's hands behind its back to give indie booksellers a fighting chance
Amazon has taken a break from exploiting customers and tempting authors in its negotiation efforts with publishers to do something good for users: It's circumventing a French law forbidding it from offering free shipping by charging one-tenth of a euro instead.
The law also prevents Amazon from discounting book prices, and that aspect hasn't been quite as easy to avoid, with the company saying in a statement that it can no longer offer price cuts. The Wall Street Journal reports that the law is known as the Anti-Amazon law in the country, where it was introduced to defend independent booksellers from retailers like Amazon, which was previously thought to become its largest bookseller some time in 2017.
Similar rules were previously in place in the United Kingdom, which allowed publishers to set a minimum price for their products between 1900 and 1997, when the law was revoked. The idea behind these rules, as well as the new law in France, was to prevent large booksellers from undercutting independent shops and forcing them out of existence. (They seem to have worked -- more than 500 independent shops closed their doors after the rule was revoked in the UK.)
There's no doubt that Amazon's recent actions have made apparent the dangers of allowing a large company to gain too much control over an industry. It previously escaped criticism for its size by claiming to be all about customer happiness. Now that it's bullying publishers into offering it a bigger cut of ebook sales, rights to print books on demand, and fees for having a pre-order button on their product's pages, it's clear that consumers aren't Amazon's number one priority.
But writing a law specifically to handicap Amazon and give its competitors an advantage doesn't seem very sporting. If anything it just shows that France would rather have a local company assert control over the book industry instead of having some stars-and-stripes invader amass the same power. While that might excite nationalists, it's unlikely to do much for the publishing industry as a whole.
Amazon isn't the problem. The problem is allowing any company, whether its headquarters are based in Seattle or Paris, to become so powerful. If France were to introduce rules that applied to all publishers this law might be heralded as a fair attempt to limit Amazon's power. As it stands, it seems like French lawmakers are tying Amazon's hands behind its back and allowing French companies to attack the company. That's not admirable; it's just unfair.
[image adapted via wikimedia]