More expensive books on the internet: a favor for booksellers?

Benoît Bougerol, former president of the Syndicat de la Librairie Française, told ActuaLitté: “ Here is the culmination of a long fight initiated by the legal actions that I had carried out with the SLF from 2008 against dumping and the sale at a loss that constituted free shipping.. “However, he would like La Poste to present “a clear and simple offer so that sending a book costs less than the current colissimo, especially for small books such as pockets “.

SLF fight for years, this end of free access leads to ipso factoa higher final price for the customer. That Internet users do not like to pay these sums is one thing, that the parcels, the logistical processing and the shipping costs – the essence of which… – are free, that was a total inconsistency. And yet…

For the former bookseller, the work of the parliamentarians who adopted the Darcos Law, served the defense ” of culture, and the distribution of books, everywhere in the territory and for everyone. Only a fabric of bookstores in our cities will allow access to books with advice and choice close to each reader, like the fabric of libraries “.

However, and he agrees with the Syndicate on this point, the request made was around 4 or even 5 €. A sum “which would have been fairer when you know that a colissimo (for goods, which is the case for a book sold) costs more than 7 euros, that packaging costs more than one euro, and that the employee concerned is also, modestly, paid“.

You shall not pass

The SLF does not mince its words: “The account is not there“, draws the employers’ union, for whom the spirit of the Darcos Law, – “rebalance the conditions of competition on the book delivery market and, thus, allow booksellers to be able to develop their presence on the Internet” -, fall in the water. Arcep’s decision, from a threshold of €3, up to €35 – beyond which an amount of only €0.01 will be invoiced, i.e. the old true-false gratuity – will continue the company to sale at a loss for the bookstore.

READ: The regulated amount of postage for books set at 3 euros

The net loss will be on average 3 euros on the shipment of a paperback book, between 2.50 and 3.50 euros for a large format book, 3 euros for a comic strip and more than 8 euros for two comic strips or a medium format art book», Analyzes the SLF. Fact, “the vast majority of internet buyers are wealthy city dwellers who have one or more bookstores nearby“, insists the press release.

A victory for the culture of gratuity, in defiance of “the logic of a single book price”, given that any discount “upsets the competitive balance between retailers“.

And to turn, once is not custom, towards the public authorities so that the latter make yield the post. The SLF project, which brings together some 700 bookstores in the territory, is “to obtain, for booksellers, a more advantageous shipping rate allowing, by combining with the minimum thresholds, to finally make them competitive with regard to the major online platforms“.

A balance achieved

The bell does not ring in unison with the SLF, on the rue de Valois and Bercy side. Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy and Rima Abdul-Malak, in charge of Culture, welcome and accept Arcep’s proposal with a certain ease. According to them, the offer of €3 “commonly applied for delivery of other products, does not appear to be a deterrent to buyers“.

Similarly, that of €35 of purchases which, once reached, switch to the price of €0.01“promotes the grouping of orders, a virtuous gesture in terms of ecological transition“.

In short, and following the public consultation, the Arcep’s decisionallows a balance between the achievement of the objective set by the legislator and the preservation of the book market“. France now has a few administrative procedures at European level. A notification will be made shortly to present a draft decree for opinion. “Once it has been issued, the minimum pricing will come into effect within 6 months of its publication.»

Half victory, half failure

Cyril Olivier, Chairman and CEO of the Nosoli group (Furet du Nord/Decitre), believes that “any government provision aimed at regulating and aiming for fairness in the book market is welcome in our eyes“. Arcep’s approach was therefore aimed at this ambition, “in particular by including the inequity of subscription formulas that absorb shipping costs“.

However, the result obtained by the library leads to “half a win. So a semi-failure“, he assures us. “Indeed, rather than discussing a free threshold (€15? 25? 35?), maintaining the €0.01 — de facto free delivery — does not regulate competition between certain players and the majority of booksellers .»

And to abound in the direction of the SLF, by emphasizing that bookstores “will have to be supported by the government in their negotiations with the Post Office in order to bear postage costs of €3“.

Internet preserved

Thomas Jacquart, founder of BDfugue.com, notes for his part that with costs of 3 €the Autorité avoids the pitfall that we, online sellers, fear, namely that the Internet ends up being no more than a medium for the sale of second-hand or out-of-print books, sold at crazy prices“. The online bookstore sees in the proposal “a total victory, because Amazon will have to align with all the sites“.

Yet he keeps in mind that the final amount “will maintain a real pressure on the costs: 3 €, it is very below what the expedition of a parcel represents – counting the cardboard, the human intervention, the expenses of the sending“.

Of course, no one is fooled: forcing Amazon to charge shipping costs will amount to increasing the online merchant’s margin – just as the Lang Law, in its time, had forced its opponent, Michel Édouard Leclerc to stop its systematic discounts . And thereby earn more money.

READ: Books and postage: the Darcos law, ultimately detrimental to bookstores

However, underlines an observer concerned about his anonymity, “it’s a huge nonsense if you consider that the people who order books on Amazon are part of the urban upper classes, for the most part. This won’t hold them back in any way, but will sustainably increase Amazon’s margin!

The inflationary effect

For a few years, the American seller had indeed produced a ranking of the French cities where he had the largest number of book buyers. Not surprisingly, Paris was in first place between 2012 and 2016 — after that date, Amazon stopped producing this list. However, he is pursuing it in other European countries, and, to take the example of Italy, Milan was still in the lead for 2022, followed by Rome. Not really rural areas.

However, Frédéric Duval, general manager of the French subsidiary had defended, in a press release now untraceable, the role ofpublic interest in free shipping. And to put forward very contradictory figures with regard to the estimates of the SLF.

Thereby, “45% of French people who buy books online do so because of the distance from physical points of sale. This proportion even reaches 81% in rural municipalities.“certified Amazon. Even better, “more than half of the books purchased on Amazon are purchased by residents of municipalities with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, and more than a quarter by residents of municipalities with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants“.

Contacted by ActuaLitté, Amazon indicates that “the introduction of a minimum shipping rate would have a major inflationary effect, inducing an increase in the cost of acquiring books sold online and affecting the purchasing power of readers – and more particularly those who live far from the points of physical sales and have no alternative“.

Alternatives ruled out?

The cybermerchant also recalls its position, already mentioned, to offer a solution based on Books and brochures price, applied for overseas sale. “Alternatives exist which would penalize neither reading nor the purchasing power of the French, for example the establishment of a dedicated postal rate, as exists for shipments of books abroad: send a book of 500 grams in London thus costs €1.49, while sending it to a French address costs four times as much, namely €6.“says the firm, citing its contribution to the Arcep consultation.

In addition, the concentration of bookstores in large cities is highlighted: “Paris intramural would thus have more than 20% of the total of French bookstores, for only 3% of the population, and more than 90% of the approximately 35,000 French municipalities do not have a bookstore on their territory.»

READ: France, soon to be the first country to no longer sell books online?

However, 45% of French peoplewho buy books online do so because of the distance from physical points of sale according to a 2021 Ifop study“, notes the American subsidiary. With a simple conclusion:If a minimum rate of €3 were applied, readers would be faced with a simple alternative: give up some of their book purchases and therefore read less — which 25% of those questioned by Ifop would do — or then bear substantial additional costs, either by paying an additional €3 each time a book is purchased, or by taking their car to go to a bookstore. »

And to refer to the brief communicated to Arcep, available at this address.

The royal road on occasion

However, the risk of seeing the second-hand market explode remains real. “It’s a proMomox law. Why ? The platform is in Germany, it will not a priori be constrained by French law and it already applies shipping costs», Notes an editor. “So here is legislation that is supposed to protect booksellers and who will be the first two to benefit from it? Amazon and Momox. World champions the SLF and the Ministry!»

At a time when the idea is coming up again of a tax on the sale of second-hand books — and against which momox protestsindeed — some may revise their judgment… The idea, put forward at the time by the president of the Center national du livre, Vincent Monadé, had been rejected by the Syndicat national de l’édition, for whom the idea was bad.

Remember that La Sofia is currently carrying out a large study on the true scope of this trade. An investigation that will give at least a real vision, free of fantasies and untruths.

Photo credits: ActuaLitté, CC BY SA 2.0

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More expensive books on the internet: a favor for booksellers?


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