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In France, anyone who buys a book on Amazon will pay the shipping costs. And in Italy?

In France, anyone who buys a book on Amazon will pay the shipping costs. And in Italy?

The news may seem small from an economic point of view but it is huge from a symbolic one. Especially when compared with what is happening in Italy.

Anyone who buys a book on Amazon in France will have to pay the shipping costs. A law has therefore been passed which intends not so much to penalize Jeff Bezos’ platform, as to give a little oxygen to independent bookstores.

Let us therefore look at the law in question in more detail, and frame it in the broader context of the legislation in force in France not so much towards Amazon as towards the book sector.

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Finally, we will discuss the situation in our country, where independent bookstores are fighting an increasingly unequal battle against chain bookstores. And for some time also against e-commerce.

Amazon: France imposes shipping costs on books

The law will only come into force in 2022, but it is already making headlines for its high symbolic power.

Any French who purchases a book through e-commerce will have to pay the shipping costs of the volumes purchased.

Of course, the thought goes to the technological giants. First of all to Amazon, which will have to change its minimum shipping costs. Currently set in France at 0.01 euros. Even if, let’s remember, for those (at least in Italy) who are subscribed to the Prime service, the shipping costs are fully subscribed for all products, including books, shipped by Amazon itself.

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The new minimum cost of shipping books via e-commerce, not yet established, will be decided in the coming weeks.

The bill was presented by Laure Darcos, senator of the conservative party Les Républicains, and by MoDem deputy Géraldine Bannier. It was approved by the Senate in June, with the firm support of President Macron, and in recent days it got the green light from the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament.

The reasons for the law

When it is enforceable, the law will have a dual function.

Meanwhile, the task of rebalancing what the government has called a “distorted competition”. Amazon, therefore, at least in France will see its commercial power eroded at least to a small extent.

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But the law that will impose a cost on the shipping costs of volumes purchased on e-commerce also wants defend small independent bookstores. Which have always been forced to deal with powerful chain libraries. And in recent years with the growing phenomenon of online book purchases.

The background: the law of 2014

France has once again shown courage in protecting consumers and paying attention to the monopolistic tendencies of the tech giants.

Consider, for example, the introduction of the law against planned obsolescence (in addition to the proposal that each device must have a label indicating its duration). Or the law that requires a pair of wired earphones to be included in the packaging of smartphones, to protect under 14s from electromagnetic radiation.

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In reality There is already a law, from 2014, which in France prohibits Amazon and all e-commerce from free shipping of volumes. Law that Amazon itself has so far bypassed, setting the delivery costs of the books from 0.01 to 0.07 euros.

Amazon’s reaction

Amazon (unlike France’s Fnac) has opposed the law. Arguing that the increase in shipping costs will harm those who live in rural areas and has no access to physical libraries.

A position that does not convince Laure Darcos, for years in French publishing. Darcos, one of the two policies that presented the bill, said: “Amazon’s main market is in the large conurbations, among the privileged socio-professional categories, which are perfectly capable of dealing with an increase in shipping rates.”

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Data on French independent bookstores

According to the French Bookshop Syndicate (SLF), between 2008 and 2018, the sales of France’s 3,500 independent bookstores (employing 12,000 people) fell by an average of 3 percent each year.

In 2020, due to the severe lockdown, one in five physical bookstores lost more than 10 percent of revenues compared to the previous year.

In contrast, e-commerce site sales increased 5.6 percent, and today they control 16.5 percent of the market.

And in Italy?

In our country, independent bookstores have been experiencing a dramatic situation for years.

Before they were harassed by laws that in a more or less veiled way favored the large chain bookstores, which with their turnover could and can afford (for example) discounts on books that are difficult for small bookstores to support.

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The explosion of the online, and above all the forced closures of 2020, were only the last two hits in order of time.

Many independent booksellers are always inventing new and meritorious initiatives to diversify themselves from the larger but more impersonal realities. Think, for example, of home deliveries of books, or neighborhood activities that revolve around reading.

A law in favor of these essential places of culture would also be desirable in Italy.

But it would also be good for us readers to resist the temptation to click from time to time, and go and get a book recommended by the neighborhood bookseller.