"Behold! I am Amazon! Destroyer of bookshops! Flayer of literature outlets! The scourge of comic stalls!
Jun 5, 2013
The minister, herself a published author, was speaking in Bordeaux to an understandably sympathetic and receptive audience composed mainly of booksellers. She said, "Everyone has had enough of Amazon, which, by dumping, slashes prices to get a foothold in markets only to raise them once they have established a virtual monopoly. It is destructive for bookshops."
Well, there's some truth in that but it is the sort of broad generalistion beloved of politicians the world over. The fact is that lots of people, including the French, like and use Amazon because it is convenient, comparatively cheap and provides a vast range of products that can't be found anywhere under a single roof or, indeed, even in a town full of shops.
Sure the High Street looks very different to the way it did a generation ago in pre-Internet times but the proliferation of out-of-town hypermarkets, shopping malls, restaurant rows and cinema complexes built far out on ring roads also has a lot to answer for in that regard.
It can't be denied that there is something immensely civilised and wonderful about being able to browse the contents of book stores for hours on end - especially when a shop (Barnes and Noble in the US being an exemplar here) provides seating areas and even in-store coffee shops to allow people to take their time over their purchases. However, what we don't know is how many customers use the bricks and mortar outlets to "road test" a volume or three before ordering less expensive copies from Amazon.
That said, anything that becomes a de facto monopoly is potentially dangerous because once competition is removed so is the stimulus to keep prices down whilst maintaining high quality customer service.
History has shown us, time and again, that when one company or organisation becomes almost totally dominant (in whatever field) it becomes arrogant, unresponsive and, frequently, even belligerent in defending what it has come to regard as its God-given right to absolute control over every living soul (and his or her wallet).
The French government's growing antipathy to Amazon at el is the result of tax disputes with US-based companies. For example, for the past 18 months the French authorities have been at loggerheads with Amazon over a contentious US$252 unpaid tax bill covering the years 2006 and 2010.
Amazon, like many of its big contemporaries, reports all its various European sales through a single country or territory with a low rate of corporation tax levied on sales made outside its borders. In Amazon's case the money is routed through the miniscule tax haven of the Duchy of Luxembourg a place, (like Monaco), that is a ludicrous Ruritanian anomaly in the modern world in general and a carbuncle on the European body, economic and politic, in particular.
The few million dollars involved in the French case is a mere bagatelle as far as Amazon is concerned, and, in truth, even if it were to be paid, the sum wouldn't touch the sides of France's enormous debt bucket, but it is a matter that won't go away and dislike of and contempt for byzantine tax avoidance regimes put in place by the likes of Amazon and Google are rising to the top of the political agenda in many countries around the world. There's trouble brewing and the big Internet retailers know it.
As far as the French government is concerned, Aurelie Filippetti said she is looking at ways to cut back Amazon's rampant growth in the country by restricting its ability to combine offers of free deliveries with cover price discounts of up to five percent. That formula is the maximum discount allowed in France, which already has legislation in place to protect "small booksellers."
Meanwhile the French government remains daggers drawn with Google over long extant data privacy issues and continues to insist that legislation will be passed forcing the Cookie Monster to pay a percentage of the vast sums the search engine company makes in advertising revenues to the newspapers, magazines and other content providers that Google links to.
Meanwhile, yesterday's aging web poster-child, Yahoo, is complaining because, back in May, France's Industrial Renewal Minister, Arnaud Montebourg, imposed such stringent conditions on Yahoo's proposed acquisition of the French video-sharing website Dailymotion (a moniker that still makes me smile every time I read or hear it. Perhaps the founders should have taken advice from a native English speaker before bestowing it with such a name?) that, Yahoo claims, resulted in the deal being abandoned.
Plop! Just like that.
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