France takes aim at Amazon to protect local bookshops
PARIS (Reuters) - French lawmakers on Thursday took aim at Amazon to protect local bookshops by voting through a law that bars online booksellers from offering free delivery to customers on top of a maximum 5 percent discount on books.
The law is part of France's broader regulation of book prices and curbs on discounting, which was passed in 1981 by the Socialist government at the time to protect small bookshops from supermarket chains.
In the past decade, online outlets have challenged physical bookstores, prompting French publishers to lobby for a change in the law to stop what they call Amazon's "dumping" and "unfair competition".
According to a French parliamentary report, online book sales rose to 13.1 percent of total book sales in 2011 from 3.2 percent in 2003. The country is still home to more bookstores than most countries with 2,000-2,500 in a country of 65 million people, compared with 1,000 in Britain, which has roughly the same-sized population.
"The (book pricing) law is part of our cultural heritage," said conservative lawmaker Christian Kert who sponsored the bill.
France's lower chamber, with the support of the Socialist government, passed the law unanimously. It will now go to the Senate, which is expected to pass it by the end of the year.
For its part, Amazon said the law would have the perverse effect of hurting sales of books from the back catalogue and from smaller publishing houses, which were often bought online.
"All measures that aim to raise the price of books sold online will curb the ability of French people to buy cultural works and discriminates against those who buy online," it said.
The proposed law is only the latest example of France taking aim at U.S.-based Internet giants.
Last week the country's data protection watchdog moved closer to fining Google for the way it stores and tracks user information after the search engine ignored a three-month ultimatum to bring its practices in line with local law.
France has called on the European Union to regulate global Internet companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook more aggressively, to counter their growing dominance of online commerce and services.
It is pushing within the OECD and G20 organizations to tighten tax rules to make sure that Internet companies cannot avoid tax by locating their headquarters in low-cost EU countries. Amazon and Google are subject of ongoing tax audits in France.
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