French lawmakers on both sides unite to spear Amazon
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In a rare show of unity, French lawmakers from the ruling Socialist Party and the opposition conservative UMP party jointly approved a law on Thursday to protect independent book stores from online retailers like Amazon.
Accused of unfair competition in France, Amazon.com and other online book retailers were on Thursday the target of both left- and right-wing lawmakers.
Traditional book sellers in France, including small independent shops, have complained that Amazon’s combined practices of offering books at a 5% discount and dispatching them to customers at no additional charge undermine their already struggling business.
Amazon hit back on Thursday at French moves to limit discounts on books to 5 percent.
"Any measure aimed at raising the price of books will only reduce French people's spending power and introduce discrimination against online consumers," the company said in a statement to AFP.
The online retailer also said its practice of reporting European sales through a Luxembourg-based holding company to take advantage of relatively low corporate tax rates is legal under the single-market rules of the European Union.
MPs on Thursday unanimously voted to add an amendment to a law from 1981, known in France as the Lang Law, after then culture minister Jack Lang, which sets the value of new books at fixed prices.
All retailers can only lower books' set price by 5%, in an effort to regulate competition between booksellers and to promote reading. The Lang Law does not apply to used or second-hand books, or other items that can be bought at a book shop, such as music.
The new amendment bars retailers from offering free shipping on a new book sold at a discounted price.
Book sales dropped by 4.5% in 2012 compared to the previous year, according to the latest government figures. Data also showed that 17% of all book purchases in France were now online, and that figure was growing.
While the “anti-Amazon” amendment sailed through the National Assembly, it threatened to spark legal battles down the line.
France has been challenged in the past for its fixed-book-price policy by groups claiming it is protectionist and breaches the European Union's common-market accords.
The law is also unlikely to be the last of Amazon’s woes in France. Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti has blasted the online retail giant for dodging most taxes by basing its French operations in neighboring Luxembourg.