This week France passed a bill that bans the online retailer Amazon from offering high discounts on books and free deliveries in its country. The law was approved in an effort to protect small, independent booksellers, limiting the discount any bookseller can set to 5%. Do you personally feel this is beneficial to preserving a disappearing culture (the culture of independent bookstores), or is it in your opinion an overstepping on behalf of the French government?
You can find more information about the bill in this article.
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France is extremely protective of its culture, towards which end it has sought to limit or prevent from entering its country non-French influences, including American films and music. It has protected certain of its industries, including Dannon yogurt (Groupe Danone) from being purchased by non-French companies, and has sought to legally proscribe non-French manufacturers of champagne from calling their product “champagne,” claiming that the region of France long-known by that name entitles its own manufacturers to be the sole users of that word. In short, the effort by the French to block Amazon from entering the French marketplace is merely one more attempt by the government in Paris to insulate itself from non-French influences. France is hardly the only country the culture of which has historically included quaint neighborhood bookstores the survival of which are threatened by large chains and by online retailers. London’s independent booksellers are equally important to England’s culture as France’s booksellers are to its culture. The question is to what extent should governments go to protect domestic industries from foreign competition. As a founding member of the European Union, France willingly and knowingly opened itself up to outside influences, albeit mainly those of other E.U. members. As a founding member of the World Trade Organization, it is legally required to open its markets to foreign competition. All W.T.O and E.U. members acknowledged at the outset that certain elements of their economy and of their cultures would be affected by accession into these organizations, both of which came into existence for the express purpose of preventing the very kind of protectionist and xenophobic actions regularly contemplated by the government of France. To selectively block outside competition, such as is the case involving Amazon, is antithetical to the principles to which France has claimed to be a leader since the end of the Second World War.
As an avid reader who enjoys spending time in bookstores, especially in London, I can sympathize with France’s concerns about the effects of a major online retailer on the nation’s independent booksellers. Those effects, however, are part of a much larger issue regarding protectionism and economic liberalization. Just as France would lament a decision by the United States to block its exports because of concern for the survival of American companies, the U.S. has a right and an obligation to hold Paris to its commitments as a major part of the international economic system.
In my mind, I have no problem with the law passed. As a lover of books and one who has spent many an hour in small and large bookstores alike, I get it. In my mind,the fundamental problem here is the role of government. If we allow the government to intervene on behalf of the "vanishing culture of books," then the standard is set for government to intervene for anyone whose culture is perceived to be vanishing.
It's a "slippery slope" argument for me. It is rooted in hypotheticals and might not come to pragmatic reality, but it's a real one for me. If gun owners claimed that government intervention should be mandated for their "disappearing culture" or if the publishers of hate speech argued that government intervention was needed to protect their own "disappearing culture," I would have significant problems with it. Thus, from a non- book lover's point of view, I think that government action in the name of protecting a "disappearing culture" carries with it some fundamental challenges that have to be embraced. Strangely enough, if there was a culture to advocate for the "disappearing" identity of book lovers, I am not surprised it's the French. However, if we looked at it from the lens of government action and claims that it is or isn't warranted, politics of preferential cultural identity goes against the spirit of liberal democracy. I think that this is where my objection to the action lies.
Stating that E.U. membership hasn't worked out well for France, according to some pundits, is to totally, if unsurprisingly, miss the point. By posing as a leader of European and global integration since the post-World War II period, France has assumed a measure of responsibility for opening its markets AND CULTURE to outside influences. When it led the European community in an effort at breaking down borders to the movement of people, goods and ideas -- in effect, the elimination of the state system as it existed -- it accepted certain legal and moral responsibilities, including permitting foreign cultural influences. To then suggest, as it and its American supporters in academia are prone to do, that its culture should be protected from an online retail service flies in the face of everything the French purported to believe.
One might ask exactly what boundaries there are to be overstepped in a case such as this. Governments, both historically and in the present, regularly attempt to prop up what they see as publicly beneficial causes via legislation; many governments are lauded when they attempt to preserve natural resources, artifacts, or places of historic importance, so what exactly would be different about bookstores? What exactly is objectionable?
Bookstores are often touted as signs of cultural health, and rightly so. Making literacy visible and attractive is almost impossible to argue against. Many of us also have positive impressions of bookstores, especially independent ones, and have sentimental values attached to them. However, this sentimentality can also blind us to the harsher realities at play.
Bookstores are businesses, not a public service or a home away from home. In order to stay in business, they must be economically competitive, and Amazon is a clear threat to this. We might argue that customers should be entirely free to vote with their wallets; if they choose Amazon, then they clearly value low prices over sentimentality. However, Amazon lacks the visible literacy and "wholesome" values that makes physical stores valuable to a community; while Amazon may be good for the individual, the store may be good for the town. However, the action taken by the French government does not contribute toward resolving this dichotomy; instead it simply drags out what is likely to be a slow death by attrition as online retailers whittle away at any foothold the physical stores can find.
We should also consider that Amazon does provide jobs, and punishing a business for its success sends a very negative message to its employees and customers. In the course of its duties, a government should avoid portraying a successful business as a negative thing, and certainly not to the point of targeting one with legislation except in the most extreme cases.
Ultimately, the actions taken by the French government perfectly fit the stereotype of "big government interference", attempting to overtly steer consumer actions, when wiser choices could have been made in order to reconcile the contest between affordability and community culture.
I am of two minds on this issue. First of all, I love amazon because I have no local bookstore other than a tiny used book stand. I can get any book on amazon at any time and quick. I admit price is a factor for me, but so is convenience. My local store went out of business- maybe because of amazon.
On the other hand, no brick and mortar store can offer the main advantage amazon can. That advantage is the selection that amazon can offer. I can get virtually any book I need. The retail chains have to stock common selections. They only have so much real estate on their shelves. I think it's unfair to single amazon out because it doesn't have a brick and mortar store. That seems to be what the country of France is doing.
When are we going to realize that the world has changed? You can't legislate in this century as if we were still in the dark ages. There are a lot of problems here. This company has yet to be very profitable. It has survived, however, selling everything from dictionaries to toaster ovens, because it provides information.
When I want to buy something I usually read the amazon reviews first. I bought a blender today, and a book yesterday on amazon. I read reviews for both. There were hundreds. The beauty of anaconda is not just in its products but in it's reach. It's the community that has been created there.
These amazon users are some of the most knowledgeable, dependable, intelligent, honest, and humorous people in the world. I trust them implicitly. I crowdsource my purchases , basically. You should too. Once or twice they've steered me wrong, if there were only a few reviews. But I depend on amazon for so much more than books.
For those of us who have literally spent much of our youth in libraries and small bookstores, traversing the narrow aisles redolent of ink and paper, those beloved smells of new pages that have transported us to worlds beyond and within our imaginations as we have hidden in a large chairs to examine new wonders, we applaud France's efforts to maintain what has been so much a part of its culture. Certainly, anyone who has visited Paris has fond memories of all the small shops ranging from the boulangerie and patisserie to the chocolatiers and the many boutiques, and, finally, the librairies (book stores) and book stands along the Seine. Indeed, there would be much that is lacking if such individually-owned stores were missing.
Ordering online does not allow a person to discover books, to hold them and examine them with affection, to converse with the bookseller, to have a certain very real, sensory and stimulating experience. The closest Americans can get to this is to enter the decaying bookstores in the French Quarter of New Orleans where one feels there is even dust on the shoulders of those literari who sit behind the counter, and who, though they creak a little, have a wealth of knowledge to impart and a palpable love for books that leaves the visitor with an enriching experience.
Allowing Amazon to undercut these shopkeepers is to break the spirits of bibliophiles and put them out of business; it has been done in the United States, and the little coteries that formed in these shops now have no where to go.
Vive la librairies en France! Let the little book stores with the bells that welcome readers to a literary refuge continue! Amazon should not join the likes of Burger King and McDonald's and go overseas.
From what I see, it all a matter of perspective. As well as, what do you define as "disappearing culture"? I mean, if you mean books intead of e-books, that apparently didn't have anything to do with the problem.
One viewpoint would be:
This was necessary for the government to do this, to prevent the "big business" from taking over their country. After all, with Amazon's market, they can purchase a lot more books to sell and, thus, be able to buy them at a lot bigger discount to themselves and, thus, pass that along to the consumer. That could ruin the small business people.
Another viewpoint could be:
This was wrong for the government to do this. It stifles the business that Amazon can do. And, governments should never get in the way of business.
My feeling is this. Look what our government did in breaking up the phone company, I believe back in the 1970's. I don't believe any of the economists liked the move at all. I believe they all talked about it as "big government overreach". Well, just look at what has happened since then. Shoot, some of the companies the government broke up are even buying some of the other broken up companies. I believe the telecommunications companies are doing just fine, have had a huge effect on the world economy, and have made lots of money. "Big government" did good by this.
So, not everything is there to hurt business. And, anyhow, it's not like Amazon isn't going to be able to make any money anyhow from selling books in France. They have doing well for years, selling the exact same things everyone else is. But, by allowing Amazon to offer the bigger discounts, simply because they can buy an initial bigger volume at smaller costs to themselves and pass that along to the consumer, that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to do well with the public and society. Let's see. If you allow Amazon to do that, then the bookstores start to shut down. Then, you have more unemployed people out there. Then, you have more government programs just to help those people.
Thus, given what I read, this is absolutely what government is for. Amazon will be able to make a lot of money anyhow. They don't need any help from the government. But, the "small people", the "small businesses", they do. For, if the government doesn't help them with items like this, that's what causes the bigger government programs that require even more funding to develop.
I think that this is a little bit overstepping. In this century, people all over the world are using technology everyday. It is convenient and reliable to get a book online for a good price. Why would a government not allow people to purchase something online because it is cheaper. Ebooks are not an issue, they are the future. Small bookstores are nice and I personally enjoy going to them once in a while, but if I can get a cheap ebook online then I will. If other people also feel this way, then the "culture" will disappear, just like all things eventually do. We are making advancements in technology and that's not necessarily bad.
I think that we are considering this issue from an American perspective. For Americans, it would be an outrage if our government had decided to ban Amazon from high discounts and free shipping in order to protect small business owners. In the United States, we would clearly see that as an overstepping of the government to limit free enterprise. As a more capitalist nation, we believe in a free-market economy, in which the consumer controls the market, meaning easier access to less expensive goods.
But this is France, which is a more socialist-leaning country, and in fact, Europe itself is much more liberal (with more government "interference") than the United States. France has a long history of French nationalism, and Amazon is an American business. For the French, this is a method to preserve their own culture as well as promoting small business.
I personally see no issue with it. Go books :)
Thank you for this insight.
Why bother traveling to Europe or other lands if they are all going to be filled with franchise restaurants and superstores imitative of the United States? Yes, the "world has changed," and France is part of the EU (which has not worked out too well for France, has it?), but part of visiting Europe is the return to the Old World of Gothic architecture, sculptures, opera, etc. There is a charm there that was lost when some of our ancestors crossed the ocean. Many a time, the immigrant grandparents would cry in their remembrances of shops and cafes and parks frequented in "the old country."
Well, any country wishes that there isn't a monopoly in a certain country, as competition amongst different retailers spur growth. That is why agencies are set up in various countries such as the UK to prevent this from happening. Thus, I don't think it is an overstep
This was definitely a last ditch effort to get people back into mom and pop bookstores which as a book lover I all for. However just because a law is there doesn't mean it is going to be enforced properly. I think many people will find loop holes to this law and continue to purchase like so regularly. There is also the probability of people turning to EBooks more since it's cheaper than regular books and it's more readily available than physical books. People learn to adapt to change and I believe that will happen in this case. I don't believe that the French government was over stepping their boundaries but rather trying to protect what's inside of it and I have to respect that especially since they're trying to protect people's lively hoods.
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