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France vs. Amazon vs. Book Sellers

November 7, 2013
Book about French book seller

This is a pretty good mystery novel involving a French book seller, but I don’t think Amazon was ever mentioned.

I’m not an expert on French books.  I don’t speak or read French, and from what I understand, most French books are written in French, so there’s a pretty good chance that I wouldn’t understand French books if I tried to read them.  Then again, I’m American, and we Americans are notorious for not knowing anything that’s not about the United States, so maybe French books are written in English and I don’t know it because I’m an ignorant American.

Even though I don’t read French books, I’m writing about France because the French have an interesting bookselling law that is very different from bookselling laws in the United States.  From what I understand, the French only allow a 5% disparity in book prices, which means that Amazon can’t undercut other stores with huge discounts (this law was passed in 1981, before Amazon was even a gleam).  Amazon can’t even offer free shipping.  No free shipping?  Without free shipping, what’s the point?

Supposedly, the French read a lot more than Americans do.  It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s true.  But with this law, I’m also pretty sure that the French spend a lot more per book than Americans do.  One of the reasons I like reading is because it’s cheap entertainment.  A good book from a used book store is hours of entertainment for virtually free.  My best bargain ever was a hardcover copy of Different Seasons for 25 cents.  I read the heck out of that book. Yeah, the publishers and authors don’t see a cent of my purchase if I buy a book that cheap, but at least I’m reading.

I am what is called in some parts of the United States a “cheap bastard.”  I don’t pay full price for new hardcover books.  I don’t even pay half price at used book stores.  But if a book is really popular or sounds really intriguing, I might pay 10 or 11 bucks on the e-reader for a digital copy.  If the United States ever enacted a law similar to the law in France, I wouldn’t start spending more money on books.  I just wouldn’t buy the books covered under the law.

Yes, I have some sympathy for book store owners, but my own self-interests come first.

I like browsing through book stores, but I don’t like paying high prices for books that I see while browsing through book stores.  It’s easier to browse through a real book store than it is to browse through an online book store.  When I was a kid, I browsed through stores like Walden’s Book and B. Dalton Booksellers (in the malls).  These were replaced by giants like Barnes & Noble and Borders.  France wants to make sure their small book sellers don’t disappear.  I’m glad that France is doing that, but I’m also glad that the United States isn’t.  I’m a “cheap bastard,” and I like my cheap books.

A similar law probably won’t happen here anyway (at least not until maybe there’s another presidential administration).  President Obama seems to like Amazon, and his Justice department has sued Apple and a bunch of book publishers for colluding against Amazon (I’m not a lawyer, so I probably didn’t phrase that correctly).  I’m pretty sure a country that sues book publishers for collusion on book prices won’t then force book stores to… collude on book prices.

I like a lot of things about Amazon.  I like reading book samples before deciding whether or not I purchase a book.  I like discounted books on the e-reader.  I like being able to self-publish digitally for free (it’s a lot easier to do than I thought it would be).  When I had a fairly serious neck injury a few years ago, the only way I could hold a book without lots of arm/neck pain was with a Kindle.  So I have a bias toward Amazon and e-readers and cheap books.  But at the same time, I like browsing through real book stores more than I like browsing online.

But enough about me!  How would a law like France’s affect your book reading habits?  Do you buy high priced hardcover bestsellers when they come out?  Is a 5% discount really a discount?  What facts did I (an ignorant American) screw up?  Which kind of store do you enjoy browsing through more, traditional or online?  What’s the best bargain book you’ve ever bought?

  1. Woah! France is crazy. I agree with you that without Amazon’s free shipping feature, or the knowledge that by going on Amazon to buy a book or ebook lets you automatically get it much cheaper, there wouldn’t be much of a point. I think the point of books is to, um, read them. I wouldn’t care if I published a book and never got paid for it, so long as I had an audience and people got to read what I had to say. Publishers in America are suffering loss of profits, probably due to the ability one has to purchase books cheap or cheaper, but I agree with you that France is prioritizing the businesses over the works, and I have a problem with that.

  2. I get all the books that I want – for free – through my employer. My employer has tons of books of all descriptions, and I can just take one whenever I want. I used to use the Kindle a lot for cheap books, and then one day I said; wait a minute, why should I pay even a couple of bucks for an e-book when the place where I work every day is filled with them and they are all free for the taking? And yes, I work in a library – but you know, they give their books away for-free to ANYONE!! (What a concept – I hope it catches on)

  3. ceising4 permalink

    Not gonna lie: I like me some cheap books as well. On the other hand, I’m guessing that the income disparity is somewhat less in France than in the U.S., so that more people can probably afford the higher-priced books.

  4. It’s pretty simple for those of us at the lower end of the economic pool. If we had France’s laws, we would need to buy fewer books. And I would have to figure out something else to buy as Christmas presents. Love Amazon, but prefer browsing ‘real’ books.

  5. LOL! I am cheap too. I used to buy paperbacks at Borders during their ‘buy one get the second at 50% off” sales before they folded. Then I discovered local library and school used book sales and I became addicted! $1-$2 for often like-new books, and very good titles. If prices went up I would borrow more from the library (I love the library), and buy out of pocket for the books I really want to have.

  6. That law exists in France because here the large corporations have an even greater influence on lawmaking then in the USA coupled with a near standard level of corruption on presidential levels. Moral standards are quite fluid the higher up the political ladder and doing ‘friends a favor’ goes as far as replacing the #1 news-anchor with your mistress who sucks at that job. Needless to say she was fired the day his presidency was over.

    Viewed in that light a law which almost forces media into a kartel is nothing more then normal. One wonders when the EU commissioner on such matters is going to get the balls to go after France the way it went after Microsoft.

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