Exclusive-Amazon offered France deal to have bill protecting bookshops pulled
PARIS (Reuters) – Amazon proposed raising book delivery charges in France to around 2 euros from almost nothing if parliament withdrew a bill that would make it more difficult for the e-commerce group to undercut local bookshops, a French senator told Reuters.
Senator Laure Darcos said Amazon had made the proposal for a minimum delivery charge of 1.80-2.00 euros ($2.03-$2.25) when its vice president for Books and Kindle content, David Naggar, met Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot on Aug. 25 in Paris.
“They were ready to increase shipping costs to 1.80-2.00 euros outside of premium subscription costs to align more closely with the delivery charges of other goods on one condition: that we withdraw our bill so that it did not benefit bookstores,” Darcos told Reuters.
The proposal, details of which have not previously been reported, was part of a months-long lobbying push by Amazon to kill the bill, Darcos and five other lawmakers said.
Amazon declined to confirm the meeting took place. When asked what was said at the Aug. 25 meeting Amazon did not comment.
Independent bookshops are held with special affection in France, the land of Victor Hugo and Simone de Beauvoir. But they are under pressure from online retailers like Amazon, Fnac and Leclerc, which have eroded their market share. Of 435 million books sold in France in 2019, more than 20% were bought online.
The bill would fix its own minimum price for shipping books in France with the aim of going someway to levelling the playing field for independent book stores.
Free delivery of books is currently banned in France. Amazon currently charges a single centime (cent) compared with 5-7 euros ($5.82-8.15) for local bookstores.
Darcos, who drafted the bill, was not present at the Aug. 25 meeting but was briefed by an official in the room.
A second lawmaker briefed by a person with first-hand knowledge of the meeting confirmed a proposal in the region of 2 euros had been made. A third lawmaker informed of the meeting said the figure “sounded right”.
Bachelot’s office confirmed the meeting with Seattle-based Naggar had taken place but declined to comment on the exchange.
Darcos said the proposal was repeated to her at a separate meeting by Yohann Benard, Amazon’s public affairs director for southern Europe.
She said the company was concerned that the French legislation – which does not name Amazon – might set a precedent. Amazon did not comment.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government refused to budge, and parliament is expected to pass the bill on Dec. 19, after which a minimum shipping price for books must be agreed with the regulator before it becomes law.
Amazon says the legislation would make books more expensive for French consumers, especially those in rural areas far from any bookstore.
An Amazon spokesperson told Reuters more than 40% of its book deliveries in France went to postal codes without a bookstore. A raised minimum shipping fee would cost French consumers an estimated 250 million euros a year, the Amazon spokesperson added.
The law would only increase Amazon’s margins, company officials told the second lawmaker aware of the Aug. 25 meeting, who requested anonymity because Amazon’s operations are a sensitive matter in her constituency.
The same lawmaker said Amazon had proposed the price floor for the period until April 2022, when France elects its next president.
Amazon did not comment.
The Ministry of Culture previously told Reuters that Amazon’s pricing strategy had resulted in a single operator taking a growing market share.
French bookstore owners widely attribute their survival to a 1981 law that prohibits price discounting of new books.
($1 = 0.8882 euros)
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