France sets a minimum delivery fee for online book sales in a bid to help independent stores compete

Books are displayed on a table at a bookstore in Paris, on Oct. 21, 2021.SARAH MEYSSONNIER/Reuters

France plans to impose a minimum delivery fee of €3 ($2.93) for online book orders of less than €35 to level the playing field for independent bookstores struggling to compete against e-commerce giants, the government said on Friday.

A 2014 French law already prohibits free book deliveries, but Amazon AMZN-Q and other vendors such as Fnac have circumvented this by charging a token 1 cent per delivery. Local bookstores typically charge up to €7 for shipping a book.

Legislation was passed in December 2021 to close the one-cent loophole through a minimum shipping fee, but the law could not take effect until the government had decided on the size of that fee.

“This will adapt the book industry to the digital era by restoring an equilibrium between large e-commerce platforms, which offer virtually free delivery for books whatever the order size, and bookstores that cannot match these delivery prices,” the culture and finance ministries said in a joint statement.

They added that France will notify the European Commission of its plan and the minimum delivery fee will take effect six months after the EU grants approval.

The culture ministry said the three euro fee – which includes taxes – could not be circumvented through customer loyalty programs or joint purchases of books with other items.

It added that for orders worth more than €35, online vendors could still propose a one-cent delivery fee.

“The three euro delivery fee … is not dissuasive for book buyers and the €35 threshold will favor grouped orders, which is virtuous in environmental terms,” ​​the ministries said.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The online retail giant has said that a fixed shipping fee would punish those in rural areas who cannot easily visit a bookstore and rely on delivery.

Bookshops in France have survived the rise of Amazon thanks to a 1981 law that prohibits price discounting on new books, but they say the US online behemoth’s ability to undercut them on shipping still skews the market.

French bookstores association SLF said in a statement on Friday that the three euro fee was insufficient, as it means bookstores will still sell at a loss when expediting books to customers. It called on the government to lower French post office fees for shipping books by bookstores.

More than 20 per cent of the 435 million books sold in France in 2019 were bought online and the market share of France’s 3,300 independent bookstores has been slowly declining because of competition from online retailers like Amazon, Fnac and Leclerc.

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