French Outlaw Free Shipping

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French sophistication-especially of the economic kind-never ceases to amaze. Ars Technica is reporting that a French court has ruled that Amazon's policy of shipping books for "free" is against the law. To wit:

Did you hear the one about Amazon? It offered free shipping in France, got sued for it by the French Booksellers' Union, and lost. Now it's choosing to pay €1,000 a day rather than follow the court's order. Ba-da-bing!

No, it's not funny, but that's because it's not a joke. The Tribunal de Grande Instance (a French appeals court) in Versailles ruled back in December that Amazon was violating the country's 1981 Lang law with its free shipping offer. That law forbids booksellers from offering discounts of more than 5 percent off the list price, and Amazon was found to be exceeding that discount when the free shipping was factored in.

Opponents of economist Steve Landsburg might hail this French court decision and the law it enforces as a way to guarantee bookselling jobs and higher book prices for all. Vive la France!

Whole Ars Technica article here.

Disclosure: I have taken advantage of Amazon's free shipping numerous times and I will again.

Props to Veronique for the item.

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  1. Yes, but in France they have very delicious Kebab shops, with VERY delicious frites. Oh, they’re so incredibly crispy fried and delicious!
    Who needs books when you have such frites?

  2. They also have Alizee!

  3. What’s next? Will the candlemaker’s union demand that all French citizens must keep their windows shuttered during the day?

  4. Now I know the French are stupid. Their books cost too much.

  5. What’s next? Will the candlemaker’s union demand that all French citizens must keep their windows shuttered during the day?

    No, they’l outlaw incandescent light bulbs. Stupid French.

    Oh, wait…

  6. nitpicky – you mean “hail”?

    as in Opponents of economist Steve Landsburg might hale this French court decision

    that “hale” means, “healthy/robust” AFAIK

  7. p.s. I got a nice, warm fuzzy feeling from your disclosure. I miss them so.

  8. IIRC the law is based on “selling arrangements” (can’t sell at a loss) or something similar – as cited 1981 Lang Law.

  9. GILMORE: I do indeed. Fixed. Thanks.

  10. Hrrm, this sounds very familiar….
    Ahh, yes. Here we go.
    It was already mentioned in a Daily Brickbat a month ago.

  11. So, we’re not alone with stupid legislators and judges?
    I feel better.

  12. > It was already mentioned in a Daily Brickbat a month ago.

    Why hasn’t Daily Brickbat been folded into Hit & Run?

  13. dammit mediageek!!!!

    I was gonna use the bastiat reference. 🙁

  14. Where is Montaigne when you need him? He would insist on free shipping!

  15. J sub D: It did seem familiar. Never mind, it is still a ridiculous regulation.

  16. Why hasn’t Daily Brickbat been folded into Hit & Run?

    I hadn’t seen the Daily Brickbat before. Some of those stories are more depressing than even some of Balko’s pieces.

  17. It’s the 1981 part that gets about the Lang Law. Maybe 1891 that sort of idiocy would fly…

    It’s stuff like this why “European Socialist” is a potent political insult.

  18. [The 1981 Lang] law forbids booksellers from offering discounts of more than 5 percent off the list price

    A perfect example of the kind of laws perpetually stifling the French economy, and a warning about what protectionist thinking, or lack thereof, leads to. Both are a direct result of a fixation on the production side of the economy which misses the fundamental reason producers exist in the first place. Speaking of, and to borrow a line from, Steven Landsburg: producers exist to serve consumers, not the other way around.

  19. The World would not be as fascinating the place without France to make fact stranger than fiction every once in a while…

  20. Does the Lang law apply just to booksellers, or are there no “loss leaders” in French retail at all?

  21. Why hasn’t Daily Brickbat been folded into Hit & Run?

    I’ve had the same thought. I often want to make snide comments on those little pieces about world insanity.

  22. Thank god the Europeans are all socialists… it is the only thing that keeps them from dominating the world economicly.

    I mean, they know more languages, are better in math and science… if it wasn’t for the fact that most of them are economicly illiterate, they would kick our asses.

  23. I try to like the French, I really do. But other than the food and wine, their whole culture is morally bankrupt.

  24. In protest, I will start calling it a “Three-way” now.

  25. In protest, I will start calling it a “Three-way” now.

    How about calling it a “Freedom Fuck”?

    heh. “Honey, you know that this is good for America! look at the name!”

  26. I’ll keep calling it the trifecta.

  27. nitpicky – you mean “hail”?

    Perhaps “heil” would be more appropriate?

  28. I’ll keep calling it the regular.

  29. They’re just mad that Amazon is offering free shipping before they can pass a law that requires free shipping.

  30. TANSTAFS

  31. Damn, Episiarch. That’s awesome.

  32. According to the comments on the linked articles, this law was meant to protect cultural diversity. Let’s assume for a moment that this is an inherently desirable goal, that market forces do not place enough weight on it so government regulation is needed, and that this kind of regulation achieved its goal (I simply assume all of this, because I don’t want to debate it at the moment).

    Now, Amazon and other online retailers come along, an offers a variety of books well beyond what any small bookstore can offer. And they even go through the trouble of offering free shipping. But because of laws like this the free shipping cookie may be gone, hence raising prices and reducing access to the cultural diversity Amazon offers. This is something that I find frequently in government regulation: Today’s solution becomes tomorrow’s problem.

  33. Doesn’t Amazon routinely offer more than 5% off the cover price, just as their regular discount price? Do they just not do that in France?

  34. I’ve got a Border’s rewards card. I don’t even go in there anymore unless they e-mail me at least a 20% discount coupon. Luckily, they seem to do this at least once a week. Who would even buy books at less than 5% off?

  35. I think the French have special regulations that apply to books, to protect small booksellers from large booksellers or supermarkets.

    So, pretty much, to keep inefficiency as much as possible.

  36. “de stijl | January 16, 2008, 4:27pm | #
    Does the Lang law apply just to booksellers, or are there no “loss leaders” in French retail at all?”

    that’s what I remember. there were several cases that were found not to be in violation of EU law (where a german company or whatever tried a promotion in france, and laws governing selling arrangements weren’t covered, so local law trumped).

    but it’s the “fair trade” or “protectionism” or the anti walmart forces or what have you!

  37. IIRC the law is based on “selling arrangements” (can’t sell at a loss) or something similar – as cited 1981 Lang Law.

    To my mind, the most important and immediate effect of such a law would be to block emergence of new enterprises, which almost invariably operate at a loss for a good while (including, umm, for a remarkably excellent example, Amazon). A new caf? with only one customer is not serving him that cup of coffee at a cost covering the lease on their building…

    France seems dedicated to turning itself into a museum of how (good) life used to be.

  38. Hmm. I’ve always wondered why books are so expensive in France — why a small paperback at a chain store is upwards of 30 euros. I guess policy can explain it.

  39. Okay, I know I defended France in a previous post, but this is just fucking retarded. Don’t they pull this protectionist stuff on books in Germany too?

  40. Actually Egosumabbas, they have a whole different policy for books in Germany.

    Something about them being a viable alternative energy source.

  41. Hugh Akston wins!!!

  42. Is there a point beyond pity?

  43. It offered free shipping in France, got sued for it by the French Booksellers’ Union, and lost.

    We’re all French Booksellers now…

  44. Shipping controlled use goods like IT equipment across borders is challenging even for the most knowledgeable logistics personnel.

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