The French government has reached a new point in its quarrel with Amazon, economics, technology, reality, and all of history sure the death of Louis XIV. The lower house of the French parliament, the National Assembly, voted across party lines to pass a new bill banning free shipment of books by online stores, and limiting discounts on prices set by publishers to 5 percent maximum.

Specifically targeted at Amazon, the new law will now go to the upper house of the French parliament, the Senate, and may face further legal challenges at the European level. Amazon wasn’t slow to point out that this rule will only make a slight difference to its operations, while hitting French book buyers first and hardest. And it will obviously do zero to halt the shift towards ebooks. l doubt it will do too much for French bookstores either.

As Tim Worstall pointed out in Forbes, “the French understanding of economics is that it would never do if consumers were able to get a decent deal. Nor, of course, should anything at all change just because technology has.” This is the country cited as “the new sick man of Europe.” And with policies like this, you can see why.

Writers and cultural figures bemoaning the waning influence of French literature and the French language might be better occupied in figuring out ways for it to produce stuff that the rest of the world actually wants, rather than ring-fencing it from reality. I really hope that some enterprising Belgian or Swiss booksellers, out of reach of the dead hand of the French state, see the opportunity and start discounting and importing heavily. France deserves it.


  1. You refer to an article titled “Is France the Real Sick Man of Europe?”

    Just to put things in perspective, here are some highlights from the experts’s answers :

    “Considering the current situation in a number of key areas, the answer to this question, in my view, is “no.””
    “In short, France is not as sick as it feels.”
    “Writing off France has always been a mistake.”

    So, I think that put some water in your wine of France bashing.

    Bien à vous,

    Une Canadien-français

  2. The waning influence of the French on world culture is all too obvious. When I started college in the summer of 1966, the English department was more into French philosophy than anything English. Even then there was a decaying, decadent feel to what happened in those Parisian cafes. Today no one cares. At gunpoint, I couldn’t name one living French thinker or author.

    To have influence, you must have innovation and for innovation, risk is required. That’s why ebooks published by their authors are likely to create more great literature (and yes, more trash too), than all the government cultural subsidies and price protections combined. Digital self-publishing allows authors to take risks on themselves and their ideas. There’ll be winners and losers.

    Just keep in mind that Amazon’s behavior is not the opposite of dictates coming from a French bureaucracy. If you examine Amazon’s strange royalty scheme, you’ll find something as dictatorial about prices as that of the French government.

    * The French government believes that all books should sell at near full retail and that shipping should not be free for the customer.

    * Amazon believes that all ebooks should sell for between $2.99 and $9.99. It punishes authors who disagree, pricing their ebooks higher or lower, by paying royalties that are half the industry standard (35% rather than 70%). In most cases, Amazon believes that shipping (meaning downloads) should not be free for the author/publisher. It demands that they pay a download fee for each ebook sold. No other online retailer of ebooks does that.

    In France, the results of the dictates at least appear to serve the interests of bookstores and publishers, although high prices may actually mean fewer sales and less profit, as well as less taxes paid.

    With Amazon, without a doubt those half-royalties and hefty download fees do enrich the company at the expense of authors and publishers. Amazon is getting rich off the rules it has set. The French government may be losing money on theirs. And at least the French government is not attempting to dictate how much authors are paid. Amazon is.

    I leave it to you to decide. My opinion comes from Shakespeare: “a plague on both your houses.” I don’t want either the French government or Amazon telling me how to price my books. The same applies to those meddlesome DOJ lawyers.

  3. What do you expect from a country ruled by a socialist president that needs help to tie his shoes. That idiot doesn’t have a thought of himself in his head. He wakes up in the morning to the whispers of his advisors. Lobby heaven from extremist national groups far far to the left.

    And yes I do live in France and are not too happy about it right now.

  4. The fall of French intellectualism is interesting. What has it been replaced with? Werewolves, wizards, and vampires. Isn’t it more FUN to read about an exciting adventure than an essay on the ethics of understanding evil by a stodgy Frenchman? (Alain Badiou).

    The real fight isn’t with free shipping at Amazon but readers who hunger for stupid stories. For the new French Hell isn’t other people, it’s people who prefer Rowling over Sartre. Amazon is just the dog at their feet who they can kick.

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