French Cultural Exceptionalism

France’s crusade to protect independent booksellers against huge online retailers was stepped up yesterday as the government proposed a €3 (£2.92) minimum delivery fee for all online book orders of less than €35 ($34).


Couple browsing in a French bookstore

The government’s fixed fee for online deliveries is part of a quest to support independent bookshops against the domination of big tech firms, such as Amazon.


French law had banned free book deliveries six years ago. But a loophole had allowed Amazon and other big online companies to get round the rules by charging just a single cent for shipping a book.


The culture and finance ministries said in a statement: “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 move is part of the French notion of “cultural exceptionalism”, which has long sought to shield books and independent booksellers from the ravages of free-market forces.


French law requires that publishers set the price of new books so readers pay the same whether they buy online, from a big high-street shop or a small bookseller. The law allows a maximum discount of only 5 percent. It has helped preserve France’s 3,500 independent bookshops which account for 12,000 jobs.

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