Should The U.S. Adopt An 'Anti-Amazon' Law?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Jumel Book Store on the border of Harlem and Washington Heights (Courtesy of Jumel Book Store)

The novelist Pamela Druckerman wrote an op-ed in The New York Times about France's so-called "Anti-Amazon law," which bans online booksellers from offering free shipping on discounted books. The law, which French Parliament passed unanimously, is designed to help independent book stores survive. The U.S. doesn't have a similar law — but should it? Dougal Thomson, Director of Communications and Programmes for the International Publishers Association, discusses the pros and cons of fixed book price systems from his recent global report for his organization — and whether America should consider books special, as so many other countries do.


Dougal Thomson

Comments [27]

Judith Targove from Highland Park, NJ

I sometimes think that publishers should print new books as paperbacks and offer hardbacked books for libraries. This might lower prices and help bookstores compete.

Jul. 17 2014 10:27 PM

@Larry from Brooklyn

"Let old-model, inefficient businesses die."

There's a difference between letting die and killing, Larry. Amazon's practices are predatory...Just like WalMart's. They price at a level that's meant to drive out competition. Once the competition is gone, their pricing is not so responsive. You win in the short-term but lose in the long-term. And while they are doing it, Amazon IS NOT collecting the sales taxes that the state uses to provide services to its citizens.

We need states to cede sales tax authority for Internet sales to the IRS.

Jul. 17 2014 03:33 PM

Everyone wants to blame Amazon? Why? It's a stupid law that impedes business from being competitive. Number 1, Amamzon isn't the only online books retailer, so being able to offer free shipping helps them compete against OTHER ONLINE RESELLERS!

Really did everyone in the French government supporting this law miss this one small point?

Brock/Mortar shops will always loose against online only sellers-there shouldn't even be a comparison.

Jul. 17 2014 02:47 PM
GCL from GCL

What laws should be passed is one that repeals the taxation of sales of books and other items directly from Amazon. Consider this, when I buy a disc or other items from BBCAmerica,even though I called their 800# to complete the sale which started by looking at their website, I ended up paying sales taxes on it, because they have offices in Manhattan.

Amazon doesn't. Therefore that law as such won't work. It can't be applied to Amazon, unless the State considers all of the Amazon Lockers their offices. And incidentally I've been arguing the point with Amazon ever since. The side that attempts to understand why our country's taxes are so fouled up, has even less common sense then Fox News does about the news.

Jul. 17 2014 10:51 AM
Larry from Brooklyn

Let old-model, inefficient businesses die.

Jul. 17 2014 09:22 AM

@BIZ from NYC

"If you care about the economics of your home town - avoid shopping on amazon for anything and don't follow BL on this issue."

I'm not quite sure you are being fair to BL's POV. How far should an individual put short-term interest behind long-term interest? If my car needs anti-freeze and I'm in front of a WalMart, I'll probably buy some anti-freeze from WalMart...They'll beat the price at Duane Read or Shop-Rite. However, I won't walk two miles to save a buck.

That leads me to one more cost that Amazon is skeeving out on...Showroom'ing. Letting consumers use a brick and mortar to get a bead on the content, sizing, styles, etc. and then shift to Amazon for the final purchase. There's no easy fix for that one.

Jul. 16 2014 04:24 PM
BIZ from NYC

Interesting that those who actually work in publishing and know the inside in-depth story of the economics of publishing, again and again, say No to

Brian Lehrer is terribly in favor of amazon, thinking amazon is on the consumer's side, he is willfully ignorant of the fact that books are cheap on due to a profit loss on amazon's behalf.

Who will suffer in the future when amazon continues to sell at a loss and put retailers out of BIZ?
The book publishers themselves will suffer, amazon will pass the loss in profitability to the publishers!
Hurting the publishing industry.
Case in point Hachette.

If you care about the economics of your home town - avoid shopping on amazon for anything and don't follow BL on this issue. BL knows shockingly little.

Jul. 16 2014 02:35 PM
BIZ from NYC

You bring up a point about limited selection - a store is limited in size and stock and being able to order the book is all they can do to fulfill your purchase - but consider the alternative...

Do you think Amazon - profits driven - is going to be so cheap once it's the only player in town.
Amazon is seeking the destruction and extinction of actual stores to become the Only player in town and drive profits up - by driving prices to those "astronomical" prices you mentioned.

Bricks charge the actual price that went into making that book - writers, editors, illustrators, printers - on and on...Amazon sells cheap everything at a LOSS to put the bricks out of biz.

That's the AMZN strategy! They can afford to lose millions a quarter as long as competitors are driven out of biz.

Jul. 16 2014 01:33 PM


"Amazon is actually extremely capitalist..." Kinda like saying that Standard Oil was extremely least until they priced the competition out of the market! The time of unfettered, unregulated, unrestricted capitalism is over for everyone except liars. (aka FoxNews commentators and Steve Forbes) How many times does the same lesson need to be learned? Or do you suggest that we are collectively that dumb?

Amazon is exploiting an unfair tax advantage over bricks and mortars vendors which the government needs to take away. They pay few sales taxes in the states where their customers live by claiming they have no nexus. Horse puckey! Until Bezos can transport his goods to the client without using gas, roads, postal service or cops, Amazon is taking advantage of the infrastructure and paying nothing to support it. BTW, how uneducated is the Amazon worker? Shouldn't Bezos be paying for some part of the education that created his workforce?

Undocumented workers aren't taking jobs that Americans don't want. Undocumented workers are taking jobs at a wage insufficient to attract Americans workers. If the wage that undocumented workers are paid is insufficient to support their life in this country, guess what happens. They find a way to get the resources they need...often from the local and Federal governments. (It's McDonalds and WalMart writ even larger.) If the exploitation of undocumented workers ended tomorrow, what do you think would happen next? Wages (for everyone) would rise.

Jul. 16 2014 12:25 PM

It's interesting when unskilled American workers say they are having trouble competing with the horde or illegal labor flooding over the border the small shopkeeper class says "stop being a sore loser and upgrade you skills" but when the same small shopkeepers can't compete with Amazon, a completely legal American enterprise, they complain and want new laws! Well, if your business can't compete "stop being a sore loser and upgrade your business". The stuff I order online isn't stocked at the local store anyways so Amazon is just taking customers "Indie bookstores didn't want" sort of like how undocumented labor just takes jobs "Americans didn't want".

Jul. 16 2014 11:56 AM

Amazon is actually extremely capitalist, they reinvest almost all of their money in more physical capital as well as intellectual property. Jeff Bezos could have stopped building the company in 1998 or whatever and just had his little online bookstore and bought a luxury condo in Brooklyn and sat around feeling smug and "indie" but instead he kept building the company. I'm sorry but no one is entitled to be a bookstore owner.

Jul. 16 2014 11:44 AM
Andrea from NYC

To Mark: Amazon doesn't participate in capitalism...they make no money on their books. The idea behind capitalism is that a profit is made, books are Amazon's loss leader. Capitalism is also not the idea that we have a race to the bottom on prices, otherwise, economies crash.

Jul. 16 2014 11:28 AM
Tony from Canarsie

Brian, I didn't hear any mention of the legality of the ideas you threw out about government involvement. I seriously doubt they would last a day in court.

Btw folks, support your local bookstores!

Jul. 16 2014 11:22 AM

finally somebody mentioned that amazon doesn't only sell books. that concept may be much more important than it first seems. for amazon books sales are a form of market research. they can infer what folks are interested in by which books they buy and then stock and market other merchandise accordingly. this positions them to offer books at low, arguably predatory prices as they do not necessarily need to maximize profits on book sales. however, that also gives them a strong incentive to keep book prices low as encouraging book sales encourages customers to provide needed marketing data. so i'm not sure an amazon near-monopoly would result in a sudden spike in book prices. however this may be contributing to the broader effects of "customer as product", "every interaction becomes a marking datum", and the general expansion of consumer culture.

Jul. 16 2014 11:22 AM
molly damon from new jersey

On the argument that amazon gives more people access to affordable books thus allowing more people to read more, what about the free public libraries that have been doing that very thing for ages? Many even offer online services so you don't have to go anywhere to gain access to the books you want to read.

Jul. 16 2014 11:20 AM
Alan from New York

For buying books online, especially used books, a far better source than Amazon is, which is a search engine that access a huge number of databases. The user therefore can choose from among many book sellers.

Jul. 16 2014 11:14 AM
Mary from Westchester

Without independents, new children books with pictures can't be seen, and that is something Amazon doesn't allow (that is, browsing). Plus they don't translate well on ebooks.

Without independents allowing browsing and driving even a few orders, the distributors (awful companies like Baker & Taylor - viscererated by private equity firms) won't carry children's books.

Unless they're by celebrity authors.

So Amazon is shutting down diversity for children's books. print on demand - doesn't do well if pictures are important

Jul. 16 2014 11:12 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

In this day and age most "middle men" probably don't need to exist, and we shouldn't be rigging the system to keep middle-persons in business. But I do agree that everyone should be taxed the same. It is unfair to tax brick and mortar sales and not tax internat sales equally.

Jul. 16 2014 11:12 AM

can someone please explain this "fix book price" concept? in discussions like this i hear about amazon pricing all books at 9.99 or some such, but i buy books from amazon (though i always try strand first) and find prices all over the place, some quite high. i'm sure there must be some sub-set of the amazon inventory that is flat-rate or i wouldn't keep hearing this. can someone explain how this works?

Jul. 16 2014 11:09 AM
resident alien from Williamsburg

on a side note:
a major contribution that enabled amazon to almost monopolize the online retail market where the defacto hundreds of millions $$$ in INDIRECT SUBSIDES it got from taxpayers by only having to collect sales tax in Washington state for almost two decades! - it has changed now...
how un-american was that? or was it?
time for some repay?

Jul. 16 2014 11:08 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I was a bookstore owner for about 6 months on 2nd avenue back in the Woodstock era. I think the development of digital books and ereaders like the Kindle and the Nook are wonderful. My apartment is too small to cram in another physical book. My only problem is that I don't want to buy wifi service for a mobile handheld Kindle. I don't want to spend $30 or $40 or more for wifi when I already have broadband in my apartment. Otherwise I see no reason for more physical books. I used to love bookstores but that era is another bygone relic of a prior epoch. We're in the 21st century.

Jul. 16 2014 11:08 AM
RosieNY from NYC

All in favor of "reasonable" fixed book prices where everybody involved can get reasonable profits which is not $40 for a hard-cover book.

Jul. 16 2014 11:08 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I was a bookstore owner for about 6 months on 2nd avenue back in the Woodstock era. I think the development of digital books and ereaders like the Kindle and the Nook are wonderful. My apartment is too small to cram in another physical book. My only problem is that I don't want to buy wifi service for a mobile handheld Kindle. I don't want to spend $30 or $40 or more for wifi when I already have broadband in my apartment. Otherwise I see no reason for more physical books. I used to love bookstores but that era is another bygone relic of a prior epoch. We're in the 21st century.

Jul. 16 2014 11:08 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

The House voted this week (HR 3086) to keep the Internet "tax-free". The bill as proposed still has to pass the Senate. This bill relates to access to the Internet itself, not the sales of goods and services over the Internet. That is a separate issue.

By nixing any form of Internet support which would be considered 'a tax', Americans are doomed to have content based on an advertising model. If you are not a fan of pop-ups, pre-pended commercials, browser hijacks and privacy invasions, tant pis pour vous.

[Even so-called public television and radio stations are chockablock with sponsorship ads and blurbs....Not really the experience we thought our listener donations were buying, is it?]

I'm all for putting the brakes on this transition to electronic delivery of everything. I think it's unwise to rush the change to our brave new world.

On the subject of sales taxes, the largely sales tax free transition from bricks and mortar to e-commerce has put an undue burden on states' revenues. The state's own bureaucracies haven't shrunk in reaction. Rather than implement 50 forms of sales tax revenue reporting, the states should cede that portion of their taxing authority for sales tax on electronic sales to the Federal government, who can make one set of rules for vendors to collect and report sales taxes. It's either that or see every other tax and fee that the states collect to go through the roof! (e.g. the tolls for my family's trip from Hackensack NJ to the World's Fair in Queens Beach was $1.50. It's now $30.)

Jul. 16 2014 11:01 AM
Larry from Williamsburg

I am not sure it's a good idea to control prices this way. It seems Amazon is killing the big chains that killed the small stores and now the small stores are making a comeback.

BTW, France does not have a parliament (or a parliamentary system)... it has a congress more like the US.

Jul. 16 2014 11:00 AM

Independent bookstores are overrated. They have a limited selection and charge astronomical prices. If you try shopping for books at an "indie bookstore" all that is going to happen is this: "sorry, we don't stock that, but we can order it for you and then you can pay us full price plus tax for it a week from now!". Wow, thanks, but I am capable of using the internet myself. How does making books more expensive help anyone? Why should petite-bourgeois book merchants get some kind of special protection? A capitalist is a capitalist. Just look at that Manhattan bookstore whose owner put on a liberal lefty face for his costumers but when his workers tried to join a union he fired them all. If Amazon puts phony "indie" guys like that out of business by providing better service at better prices I say great. You want to be a capitalist in America? Play by the rules of the free market.

Jul. 16 2014 10:43 AM

How ironic - the French Parliament speaks out to protect the independent bookstores of Paris, but not the SYNAGOGUES and the JEWS of Paris.

"Similar incidents occurred all over Greater Paris and France at about the same time. On the Sabbath, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a synagogue at Aulnay-sous-Bois, a Parisian suburb. At Asnieres, another suburb, the police said a Muslim mob of 300 gathered in front of the synagogue. Smaller group of Muslim mobsters attempted to get into the Belleville synagogue, in northeastern Paris, and into the Tournelles synagogue, in the Marais district."

Parliament Voting Results: Thomas Piketty - YES.
Human dignity and respect for life - NO.

Jul. 16 2014 08:06 AM

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