France Classifies Books As An “Essential Good”

It might surprise you to know that France considers books as necessary as electricity, bread and water. In fact, they treasure the printed word so much that they unanimously passed a so-called anti-Amazon law, which says online sellers can’t offer free shipping on discounted books. The new measure is part of France’s effort to promote “biblio-diversity” and help independent bookstores compete. The French secret is deeply un-American: fixed book prices. Its 1981 “Lang law" — named after former Culture Minister Jack Lang — says that no seller can offer more than 5% off the cover price of new books. That means a book costs more or less the same wherever you buy it in France, even online. The Lang law was designed to make sure France continues to have lots of different books, publishers and booksellers. Fixing book prices may sound shocking to Americans, but it’s common around the world. In Germany, retailers aren’t allowed to discount almost all books, while six of the world’s 10 biggest book-selling countries — Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Spain and South Korea — have versions of fixed book prices.