German Complaint Against Amazon Moves Forward, French “Anti-Amazon” Law Goes Into Effect

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On July 11, the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (the German Publishers and Booksellers Association) issued a statement welcoming the launch of the EU Commission’s preliminary investigation of its official complaint against Amazon, filed with the German Federal Antitrust Authority. The Börsenverein said that it learned of the EU investigation in a top-level meeting with the Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s federal antitrust authority.

“We welcome the Commission’s decision to investigate the issue, but we hope that the procedure is not prolonged unnecessarily as a result,” said Alexander Skipis, chief executive of the Börsenverein.

On July 2, the European and International Booksellers Federation expressed its strong support for the Börsenverein’s action.

In France, on July 10 a new law went into effect that is aimed at protecting that country’s booksellers from unfair competition. The law — often called the “Anti-Amazon” law — makes it illegal for online booksellers to apply government-regulated discounts to the cover prices of books and prohibits free shipping, although discounted shipping is allowed, the Wall Street Journal reported. (Amazon responded by placing a one cent shipping charge on orders.)

The “new law is the latest step by European governments — particularly France’s — to rein in what they see as the growing power of a group of largely American tech companies,” the paper noted, and reported that the French government is planning to propose new regulations at a European level to ensure a “level playing field” for European companies against U.S. firms.

“Publishers and bookstores are organizing against the unacceptable commercial pressure exercised by Amazon,” France’s Syndicat de la Librarie Française said in a statement. “We have repeatedly denounced the ‘dumping’ and unfair competition by online retailers, particularly Amazon.”

New York Times op-ed writer Pamela Druckerman observed last week that France’s new law is part of an effort to promote “biblio-diversity,” as well as to help independent bookstores compete. Estimates put Amazon’s share of new book sales in France at 10 to 12 percent, she wrote. And “Amazon reportedly handles 70 percent of the country’s online book sales, but just 18 percent of books are sold online.”

The French secret, Druckerman noted, is fixed book prices, a practice that’s common around the world. “In Germany, retailers aren’t allowed to discount most books at all. Six of the world’s 10 biggest book-selling countries — Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Spain and South Korea — have versions of fixed book prices.”

But, she stressed, “what underlies France’s book laws isn’t just an economic position — it’s also a worldview. Quite simply, the French treat books as special. Some 70 percent of French people said they read at least one book last year; the average among French readers was 15 books. Readers say they trust books far more than any other medium, including newspapers and TV. The French government classifies books as an ‘essential good,’ along with electricity, bread and water.”