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French law targets free shipping for Amazon books

A new law in France aims to offer protection for small bookstores against competition from Amazon. Lawmakers effectively decided that Amazon's free shipping gives the online retailer too much of an edge.

The French parliament approved the bill on Thursday that would prevent online retailers like Amazon from offering free delivery in addition to a discounted selling price. It updates a law on the books for decades that says editors must set a selling price for a book, and that retailers could only apply for a discount of up to five percent from that price. The law sought to protect small bookstores from large chains.

Online retailers such as Amazon often offer lower prices on books in addition to free shipping. The measure passed the lower house National Assembly in France on Thursday and must still be considered by the upper house, the Senate.

Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti said Amazon was participating in price dumping and "below-cost selling."

"The proof is that they don't offer free [shipping] in countries where there is no fixed book price," she said.

Amazon says law hurts readers

The Internet mail order company responded on Thursday after the decision, saying the law was liable to have unintended effects. Amazon argued that many back-catalog book and works from smaller publishing houses were purchased online nowadays owing to the difficulties of finding them in the stores.

"Any measure that aims to raise the price of books sold online would curb the ability of the French people to buy cultural works and would discriminate against those who buy online," Amazon said.

France has called on the European Union to regulate US-based Internet giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook, while the country's data protection watchdog is considering fining Google for the way it stores and tracks customer information.

President Francois Hollande's government in Paris is also lobbying for better tax oversight for such multinationals, seeking to prevent them from avoiding or lowering taxes by positioning their headquarters in low-cost EU countries. Amazon and Google are both subject to ongoing French tax audits.

mz, msh/kms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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