The New York Times reports on how the medieval practice of the state defending the special interests of particular groups participating in the economy over the general interest continues to flourish in certain unenlightened European countries.
Amazon.com may not offer free delivery on books in France, the high court in Versailles has ruled.
The action, brought in January 2004 by the French Booksellers’ Union (Syndicat de la librairie franÃ§aise), accused Amazon of offering illegal discounts on books and even of selling some books below cost.
The court gave Amazon 10 days to start charging for the delivery of books, which should at least allow the company to maintain the offer through the end-of-year gift-giving season. After that, it must pay a fine of â‚¬1,000 (US$1,470) per day that it continues to offer free delivery. It must also pay â‚¬100,000 in compensation to the booksellers’ union.
Retail prices, particularly of books, are tightly regulated in France.
Using “loss-leaders,” or selling products below cost to attract customers, is illegal. Other restrictions apply to books retailers must not offer discounts of more than 5 percent on the publisher’s recommended price. Many independent booksellers choose to offer this discount in the form of a loyalty bonus based on previous purchases. Larger booksellers simply slash the sticker price of books.
But the free delivery offered by Amazon exceeded the legal limit in the case of cheaper books, the union charged.
The union said it was pleased with the court’s ruling, which would help protect vulnerable small bookshops from predatory pricing practices.
This sort of thing exemplifies precisely the philosophical differences between the United States and Europe. The American idea is to attempt to limit the powers of government to serve special interests and to bear the inevitable discomforts and dislocations resulting from freedom and competition, based on the belief that voluntary human interactions produce more innovation, greater productivity, and lower costs, inevitably maximizing the prosperity of society as a whole. Europeans still commonly reject Liberalism and modernity, preferring state paternalism and arbitrary systems of protected status.
The Liberal: Wouldn’t the world be wonderful if no one had to deal with the inconveniences of change?
The Conservative: Of course not. Unless you mind going to the barber to be bled, growing all your own food and traveling overseas by boat.
The Liberal: But I welcome BENEFICIAL change and only thwart change that is harmful to the Common Good.
The Conservative: And how do you distinguish Good Change from Bad Change?
The Liberal: Ah, that is where the superiority of my intellect and cultural refinement comes into play. Just trust me to know what is best for all of you.
The Conservative: Yes, Massah. Thank you, suh!
Dominique R. Poirier
In France where I am at this time the news has triggered unanimous discontent among French citizen. A sad coincidence for the Syndicat de la Librairie FranÃ§aise, the plaintiff, is that this decision fell inopportunely at a moment when the shrinking power purchase of the average French is making front pages.
As show following comments and opinions collected this evening on the French Web the question is no longer whether Amazon.com is â€œone more feature of the hegemonic Coca-Cola cultureâ€ or not but about whether the Syndicat de la Librairie FranÃ§aise did not inflict a blow on the spread of literacy in France.
For, the attacks of this association do not limit to Amazon.com but to all other bookstores selling online within the French hexagon; though one may remark that the popular American bookseller was the only one to be suedâ€”all other French bookstores, including Fnac.com which offers free book delivery since April 2007, are expected to enjoy mere warnings before their case will be brought before justice courts as a spokesperson of this association said yesterday.
For the record, the Syndicat de la Librairie FranÃ§aise claims his main objective is to see whether a regulation on book prices created on August 10 1981 by Jack Lang, a prominent figure of the French Socialist Party then Minister of Culture, is effectively enforced in all bookstores.
In the light of the aforesaid facts we may reasonably surmise that the Syndicat de la Librairie FranÃ§aise expresses little sympathy for free competition and its proponents.
Remarkably, this news has not been commented on the main French TV channels at this time; as it is the case for another no less unpopular regulation, about to be voted at the French Senate on December 17, whose object is to impose a 2% tax on all ads and video commercials on Internet paid for by â€œanyone established on the French soil who makes available to the public a service offering free or charged access to cinematic works and documents or audiovisual contents on individual demand spread by means of numerical communication processâ€ (i.e. Internet).
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