Sylvia Whitman, proprietor of the English and American literature Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, checks her messages on her phone in Paris, France, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.

A new law in France aims to protect indie bookshops against outsized Amazon competition

Amazon often offers cheap books with fast and free delivery options, making it hard for independent bookstores to compete. The new law regulating delivery fees will put a bit more power back into the hands of indie shops.

The World

Sylvia Whitman, the proprietor of the English and American literature Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, checks her messages on her phone in Paris, Nov. 5, 2020.

Francois Mori/AP

Independent bookstores across the globe have long struggled to compete with Amazon.

The retail giant’s ability to offer cheaper prices along with fast and often free deliveries have made it hard for the smaller bookstores to keep afloat in this battle of David and Goliath. 

But in France, a new law aimed at setting the price of delivery fees is about to put a bit more power back into the hands of indie shops.

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The legislation, passed in early October, follows a 2014 law that forbade online booksellers from giving discounts or free delivery. For years, Amazon has gotten around the law by setting its minimum delivery fees at a single cent. But now, the French government has shot down that loophole, too.

“Independent bookstores across France are struggling to keep up with Amazon. ... The company’s ability to charge just one cent in delivery fees means it is crushing all other competition.”

Senator Laure Darcos

“Independent bookstores across France are struggling to keep up with Amazon,” Sen. Laure Darcos, who wrote the bill, said from the French Senate floor in mid-June. “The company’s ability to charge just [a] cent in delivery fees means it is crushing all other competition.” 

A new set price will be announced before the piece of legislation goes into effect early next year. Most independent booksellers say they typically have to charge anywhere from 7-9 euros ($8.12-$10.44) per shipping order. 

“This is a game-changer,” said Anne-Laure Vial, co-owner of Ici Librairie, one of the largest independent bookstores in Paris.

Vial also expects the forthcoming law to drive more traffic into her bookshop “because it will be less expensive to go to the physical bookstore.”

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This latest tussle may be a symptom of a larger problem for Amazon’s future in France.

While the company’s global sales skyrocketed in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, its share of the French market actually went down by 3% in 2020. 

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said that introducing a minimum shipping fee “threatens customers’ equal access to books,” especially “lower-income readers living in small towns and rural areas.” 

But bookshop owner Vial said Amazon is the one responsible for driving local bookshops out of these communities. She hopes this new law will help bring them back.

“This will have a positive benefit on independent bookstores starting in rural areas in the future."

Anne-Laure Vial, co-owner, Ici Librairie bookshop, France

“This will have a positive benefit on independent bookstores starting in rural areas in the future,” Vial said. 

Without independent bookshops, Vial said readers are also less likely to discover books and authors that go beyond the best-seller categories.

“Independent bookstores are the place where you can discover new books, new authors, so it's a place where you can discover creativity,” she said.

 And she’s proud of the French government for recognizing that.