France Passes Anti-Amazon Law Eliminating Free Shipping; Amazon Responds With 0.01 Euro Shipping Fees

from the cher-dieu,-nous-avons-été-Columbia-Housed! dept

In a long-running legal battle that stretches back nearly a decade, Amazon has again emerged as the winner, despite both a court ruling and legislation against it.

In 2004, France’s bookstores took the company to court over its discounts and free shipping, arguing that the online retailer was killing off local businesses. Three years later, the court emerged with a ruling that declared Amazon would have to start charging for shipping or face a 1,000 euro per day fine until it did. Amazon chose the latter option, opting to allow aggrieved merchants (and press covering the legal battle) to provide it with some very low-cost press.

Since that strategy didn’t pay off, French retailers began pushing for a law aimed at all online retailers — but most specifically Amazon — that would make it illegal to offer free shipping to French book purchasers. This was on top of an existing law (put into force in 1981) that forbade anything more than a 5% discount on new titles. This new law forces Amazon to charge for shipping or face being banned from selling in France completely, along with stripping away the 5% discount.

No doubt this was seen as a huge victory for all the local stores that managed to weather the last 10 years of low-level, government-aided price fixing. It probably felt like one, too, right up until Amazon announced its new shipping rate.

France’s “anti-Amazon” law prohibiting free shipping and discounts has now gone into effect, and Amazon quickly announced that it had conformed — technically. Though it no longer ships books for free, it only charges 0.01 euro, conforming to the letter if not the spirit of the law (French Prime members still receive free book shipping).

Enjoy your symbolic victory, French legislators. A whopping centime per shipment “containing books” (no matter how many items are in the cart) will no doubt restore the financial glory of local retailers, especially when unaffected items start flowing into France with both discounts and cheaper shipping.

That’s the sort of “victory” that’s often achieved by legislating “fairness.” There are others ways local retailers could have handled this problem, but they chose the long, expensive and ultimately fruitless courtroom/legislation route and the end result is 1/100th of a Euro per shipment. And this won’t be the end of it. Amazon is apparently eyeing an appeal with the EU Commission, which views the new law as anti-competitive.

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Comments on “France Passes Anti-Amazon Law Eliminating Free Shipping; Amazon Responds With 0.01 Euro Shipping Fees”

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73 Comments
ThatFatMansays:

Sad

It’s really sad that neither the legislators nor the bookstores saw this move coming.

Maybe in another 10 years Amazon will have to bump up the shipping cost to 0.02 euro after they outlaw 0.01 euro shipping too.

And if I were running Amazon, I think I’d find a way to refund everyone 0.01 euro just for the sake of doing it. Maybe toss in a piece of 0.01 euro candy with every book order

DannyBsays:

This is shameful and a discrace

How dare foreign companies, especially US companies, compete with France’s local bookstores! And to add imagined injury to hallucinated insult, the competition is in the form of this crazy online ordering instead of the time honored new book smell of local book stores. And Amazon sometimes even sells these new e-book things. Outrageous.

To punish Amazon for competing with local french bookstores, France could also enact offsetting requirements on e-book imports requiring the destruction of 1.5 times the number of trees that would have been used to create a physical book. That would at least offer a moral victory for local french book stores.

amoshiassays:

Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

I find it profoundly weird that not a single comment here even considers that there might be a value to anything other than lowest cost.

Look, don’t get me wrong – my household gets about three Prime packages a week, on average. I’m not anti-Amazon. But I am, more and more, becoming suspicious of the viewpoint that sees economic efficiency and lowest cost as the single overriding factor in every decision.

It’s at least worth asking the question, “do bookstores provide something beyond lowest-price value that deserves protectionism.” The answer is hardly a forgone conclusion on either side.

The more I think about it, though, the more I am starting to think that the answer is “yes – jobs.” That’s the thing about efficiency – the money that it saves is saved through eliminating jobs. Jobs that aren’t replaced anywhere else in the economy and will never come back. Should the government move to eliminate the business model that destroys those jobs?

Dear god, I don’t know, that’s an insanely complicated question. But you’ve got to at least admit that it’s a question. It’s possible that we’re efficienting ourselves back into a feudal system, and we should at least have a discussion about it before we get there.

Gwizsays:

Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

That’s the thing about efficiency – the money that it saves is saved through eliminating jobs. Jobs that aren’t replaced anywhere else in the economy and will never come back.

Employment is not a zero sum game. Even if those jobs “aren’t replaced anywhere else in the economy” the majority of those displaced will find jobs doing other things.

If my job gets eliminated tomorrow, I’m not going to throw my hands up in the air, sit down in the dirt and starve to death. That’s silly.

amoshiassays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

I am truly, truly happy for you, Gwiz, that for you finding a new job is such a trivial thing that losing a job isn’t an idea that bothers you. That is not the experience of the majority of Americans, however.

And you are absolutely right that employment is not a zero-sum game, but I don’t think you really thought through your statement while you were making it. Right now, employment is a negative sum game, in the United States and – it seems – around the world. When I say jobs are going away and not being replaced, what did you think that means? It means that the people displaced DON’T find jobs doing other things, because there are no jobs to find.

If the answer to this is that I need to pay more for shipping, and the FAA disallows Amazon from using drones – but tens of thousands of UPS drivers keep their livings – well, it’s worth talking about the value proposition there.

DSchneidersays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

I actually don’t think self driving vehicles will affect the UPS/Fedex guys. Someone still needs to grab the appropriate box(es) and deliver it up to the house/office.
But other industries like the taxi and trucking industries and others will be greatly impacted by driverless vehicles. Safety will be improved as the vehicles will always observe traffic laws and will be aware of traffic conditions (The Tracy Morgan accident likely wouldn’t have happened with a driverless vehicle). For taxi’s there’s no driver to be robbed, no need for lunch or bathroom breaks so cars can run 24/7 only stopping for gas/maintenance. There’d be no racism, i.e. I’m not going to that neighborhood at that hour, or I’m not picking up that person as the car just goes where the fare is.
Personally I can’t wait, as my wife is disabled and doesn’t drive, so having a driverless car for her would greatly improve her freedom as she could go where she wants when she wants. Right now, no matter how short the trip we have to pile everyone (2 kids) in the car so I can take her where she needs to go.

jupiterkansassays:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

“Someone still needs to grab the appropriate box(es) and deliver it up to the house/office.”

That process can be automated too, but it will probably take longer to happen. Possibly beyond our lifetimes. Then again, it only took 66 years to go from Kitty Hawk to the Moon.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

It is actually pretty easy: if you fit electronic lockers to the delivery van (something like the arrangement used on the modified utes used to deliver sanitary disposal units would be suitable). When it arrives, the van phones you and you have so many minutes to come and collect your items before it drives off.

Chronno S. Triggersays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

So let’s artificially limit the market and force inefficient and outdated jobs instead of encouraging new jobs and helping people get educations that fit the ever changing market.

Fixing the symptom and ignoring the problem will not fix the problem.

ThatFatMansays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

If you’ve been paying attention over the years, you’ll notice that that is exactly the way government works. Most of the laws that are passed are nothing more than band-aids for already broken or outdated laws, or worse, for moral panics and public outcries.

Davidsays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

Thinking is hard, and the current trend in entertainment culture is towards eliminating it as much as possible.

It’s a nice thought that menial tasks should be left to computers and machines, but for one thing that would require the support of a culture actually geared towards encouraging thinking as a principal occupation. For another, even the smartest people can’t spend all of their time thinking creatively without burning out eventually.

For a third, cardiovascular diseases are already the prime cause of death in civilized countries.

And last but not least, it is only a fraction of all people who have it in them to spend a lifetime with creative thinking. While the upbringing and environment and values may make a lot of difference, there is also genetic ability, and the overall constitution of the gene pool and its combinations does not produce exceptional thinking capacities liberally. When a higher ratio of those become crucial to the survival of genetically linked communities, there may be shifts in the ratio of highly intelligent people according to current standards, but technology and society these days advances at higher speed than the evolution of human race.

Gwizsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

I am truly, truly happy for you, Gwiz, that for you finding a new job is such a trivial thing that losing a job isn’t an idea that bothers you. That is not the experience of the majority of Americans, however.

I never said it was trivial or that it wouldn’t bother me. Please don’t put words into my mouth. But, you are talking to someone who started a career as a manual draftsman in the early 80’s that evolved into CADD and then was eliminated because engineers can now produce the drawings themselves. I now design and sell signs.

When I say jobs are going away and not being replaced, what did you think that means? It means that the people displaced DON’T find jobs doing other things, because there are no jobs to find.

I think your are wrong. You have fallen into the zero-sum fallacy. Jobs are changing, sure. People may not want to do jobs below what they believe worth to be, but the jobs are there nevertheless. Take my personal example – many draftsmen lost jobs, but plenty of jobs were created making CAD software and hardware.

If the answer to this is that I need to pay more for shipping, and the FAA disallows Amazon from using drones – but tens of thousands of UPS drivers keep their livings – well, it’s worth talking about the value proposition there.

And the inverse of that would be that drone manufacturers would be hiring people to keep up with demand. A loss in one place would create jobs in other places.

martyburnssays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

Jobs are changing, sure.

This.

I don’t know why it’s so hard for some people to understand. Maybe the booksellers don’t find new jobs straight away but most likely someone else somewhere does so only because of the closure of book stores.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

actually, no. There are much less jobs created then destroyed and those that are created are usually jobs for specialists that can’t be easily done by people with lower education or the education needed for the jobs that were lost. There will be a growing surplus of people that will never find a job suitable to their education or abilities. And it is not their fault, regardless how much the hardcore capitalists insist on it.

However, I disagree that subsidizing businesses that have become obsolete is in any way a valid course of action. The focus should be to retrain people if possible and simply accept that some will for one reason or another not become a “productive member of society” again and that is the part of the population where social security should unquestionably provide for. This would help reduce crime in general, prevent those people from radicalizing and it would enable them to find something to do of their own.

I consider this the price a society like ours has to pay.

Gwizsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

actually, no. There are much less jobs created then destroyed…

You have anything to back up assertion with? When you look at the employment to population ratios for the US from 1948 to present they hold fairly steady between 55% and 65%. There was an increase from the 70’s to the 90’s which, I assume, was more women entering the work force and a dip with the latest recession of course.

If what you state is true and you consider all technological disruptions since ’48 that number should be dropping like a rock. It’s not. Overall, jobs do not get lost, they change.

naschsays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

Regardless of that, I think his core message is right: if we want to deal with this issue it will have to be by making sure, somehow, that people who need training and education to qualify for these new jobs can get it. That seems to be something a lot of politicians talk about, but nobody has any idea how to actually accomplish.

Gwizsays:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

Regardless of that, I think his core message is right: if we want to deal with this issue it will have to be by making sure, somehow, that people who need training and education to qualify for these new jobs can get it.

Agreed. Retooling the workforce is and has always been important.

I just tend to get annoyed with people tossing out the “lost jobs” mantra sometimes. I heard it too many times growing up in the Detroit area. Yes, Detroit has much less manual labor factory workers then ever before, but now we are one of the largest technology, automation and robotics centers in the world.

naschsays:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

Yes, Detroit has much less manual labor factory workers then ever before, but now we are one of the largest technology, automation and robotics centers in the world.

That just means you’ll be among the first to fall when the robocalypse happens!

Donglebert The Needlessly Unreadysays:

Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

This is true. But wouldn’t it make more sense for the state to subsidise book stores, reduce their taxes, etc? The thing is, Amazon benefits hugely from impulse buys. People will still buy from Amazon but will have less money to spend on the high street.

DSchneidersays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

It would make no sense for the government to subsidize the book stores, otherwise all sorts of other businesses would demand the same protection. It’s not the governments job to keep businesses afloat, that’s the job of the business owner. While no site agrees on the numbers the general consensus is that a majority of businesses go under withing the first couple years. Sometimes that’s due to incompetence, sometimes bad luck or a combination of the two, but at no point is it the governments job to swoop in and save the day.

Chris Rhodessays:

Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

I find it profoundly weird that not a single comment here even considers that there might be a value to anything other than lowest cost

Has anyone here said price is the only that matters in a transaction? The key point here is that neither you nor anyone else have the right to dictate to me that I must value something else over a low price, whether that thing be a comfortable reading section or more entry-level, minimum-wage clerk jobs. If you value those things more than low cost, that’s fine, and you can personally support brick-and-mortar bookstores by paying their higher prices, but you don’t get to be a douche and use threats and force to get everyone else to conform to your preferences.

Call me Alsays:

Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

I like bookshops but generally I don’t spend money there. except for a few specialist places (Travel bookshops mostly) The books are often a bit more expensive then I’d be willing to pay for an impulse buy. If it isn’t an impulse buy then I’m planning for it and so I go for cost.

What is often overlooked too is Amazon does often provide more of a service then a bookshop. Sure I can ask the staff in a bookshop if they think a book is any good but on Amazon I can read reviews from many people and judge for myself if it is a worthwhile purchase.

FarSidesays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

Good points. In addition:
* you can shop at whatever time is convenient to you.

* many many many of the things you buy through Amazon come from small merchants all over the country. Amazon doesn’t stock everything themselves

* for my rural self, the convenience of having something shipped to me in 3 or 4 days trumps having to drive 45 min each way to a large store to get a single item in many cases

In short, there are a number of valuable thing, other than pure cost, that lead me to buy many things online.

Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

“Jobs that aren’t replaced anywhere else in the economy and will never come back.”

Why wouldn’t the jobs be replaced? If the book buyers save $100 because of efficiency, that’s $100 more in their pockets to spend on something else.

The replacement jobs come from producing the “something else”.

At the end of the day, society gets the same books that were being produced before, plus the extra “something else”.

Yes, change is painful sometimes, and it is reasonable to think about the temporary costs of change, and maybe even to cushion that temporary pain. But we have to look at the long-term benefits vs. the short-term costs.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

You’re assuming all of the savings go to the consumer and don’t get captured by rich executives who invest rather than spend the money. It’s rare that every last bit of the savings from job cuts goes to consumers. This means that if 100 jobs are reduced and, let’s be conservative, 1% of the savings goes to executives then only 99 of those jobs will be replaced because consumers were able to use their savings to buy something else from somewhere else. That last job? It’s gone.

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

It doesn’t matter how much of the savings go to consumers vs. producers.

_Somebody_ has more in their pocket. And that money has to be spent somehow, eventually (there is nothing else you can do with money but spend it).

When it’s spent, it’s spent on stuff that wasn’t being produced before.

naschsays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

_Somebody_ has more in their pocket. And that money has to be spent somehow, eventually (there is nothing else you can do with money but spend it).

Yes, but not all spending is the same. As I’m sure you know, the trend is toward concentration of wealth. The money is spent, yes, but it’s spent mostly in ways that further enrich the wealthy, not in ways that benefit the working class in general or people who have lost their jobs in particular.

jupiterkansassays:

Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

The whole technology destroys jobs argument has been made for over 150 years since the industrial revolution, and there are more different kinds of jobs available today despite an explosion in population.

While technology does lead to job loss in the short term, and it can be very hard on people in that short term, in the long term society has benefited it has enabled whole new fields of work and better working conditions.

Not to mention that a lot of the jobs people complain about losing were created by technology in the first place. This includes books!

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

Agreed. Shopping at amazon = deal with the devil.

Amazon isn’t offering lower prices and then eating the shipping charges out of the kindness of their hearts, they are leveraging their position and sacrificing current profits in order capture the market and drive all competitors out of business.

What do you think will happen once they’ve succeeded, hmmm?

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

Sneering is a typical response when someone points out that behavior done for short term gain will damage them in the long run. Bravo for being right on queue.

It’s not necessarily a lack of perspective, more a lack of responsibility, like a teenager with his first credit card, or a broke father with kids to feed who can’t lay off the starbucks and ipads. Maturity might be the rarest of virtues in this day and age.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

Exploit-ability is limited anyway. If they upped their margins too high that creates a niche for discount book sellers of some sort to undercut them. You’d need some major regulatory capture to truly exploit it to prevent others from getting into the book game.

Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

And price isn’t the most valuable thing either, but when you’re a bookstore trying to compete on price, then you’ll get slammed by Amazon.
Too many bookstores are like Borders: they saw Amazon coming, but didn’t change their business model. But in France, it seems like bookstores can appeal to the government rather than adapt.

Bookstores should be like movie theaters and give people a reason to shop there besides the lowest price.

textibulesays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

In France there are very few bookstores that can set up a double-dutch accounting entity with an Irish SA sandwich pointing to a Turk and Caicos holding company (or however Amazon does it), thereby paying no taxes into the economy that they’re attempting to creatively disrupt. So how would you change the business model of a neighborhood bookstore in France to adapt, mon ami?

Maybe, France doesn’t really want the lifestyle that US tech companies are graciously offering us, even if iphones and social networks are hard to resist. I get the impression that there are too many hardcore libertarians here, many with a perpetual techie hardon, and most with little idea of what people dream about outside the US or UK.

This discussion is not enlightening.

Sonjasays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Efficiency isn't always the most valuable thing in the world

I also get the perception that the french people wanted some government action. The French read quite a lot of books and believe in the small stores that dots France. Its a symbol of freedom of choice and ease of access (probably a consequence of the revolution where access to information was limited only so select few). They seem distrustful of monopolies, since once a monopoly is established you pretty much have to dance to their tune. Apparently book pricing in France is also reasonable and in some cases less compared to other countries in the European nation, even with all the regulations around books. It would be nice if I could find a researched article that corroborated those statements though.

scotts13says:

I feel for the book stores

I really do. I used to own a brick-and-mortar store myself; I think they can offer valuable services that internet ordering never can. I would hope that consumers recognize that; certainly, I shop locally whenever I can. BUT: My opinion is definitely the minority. Consumers have voted with their dollars, again and again, that they DON’T want what local stores offer, and price is indeed king. Much as I regret their choice, It’s very poor policy, IMHO, for a government to drive costs up for the majority of consumers to subsidize an obviously declining industry.

PRMansays:

Re: Re: I feel for the book stores

I never enjoyed going to stores. I would go and ask about a Programming book. They had no idea. Or sometimes, they would try and I would buy a $50 book. But then I would find out that another book was better. So I would buy another $50 book.

I never do that on Amazon. The reviews ensure that I only buy things once.

John Fendersonsays:

Re: Re: I feel for the book stores

” I think they can offer valuable services that internet ordering never can.”

Indeed. In my part of the country, brick and mortar bookstores are doing very, very well. The ones that closed were the ones that bordered on useless in the first place: Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc. The valuable ones, the real bookstores, have not only remained but are in many cases expanding.

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