France Banned Free Shipping. So Amazon Made It Cost One Cent.

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
July 11 2014 3:05 PM

France Banned Free Shipping. So Amazon Made It Cost One Cent.

39378506euro_20010828_01715.jpg
A euro cent saved is a euro cent toward Amazon shipping.

Photo by Michel Porro/Getty Images

This past October, French lawmakers decided it was time to show Amazon who's boss. Frustrated by Amazon's fast and cheap book-selling model, which poses a threat to France's healthy ecosystem of indie bookstores, politicians banded together to approve a bill that prohibited Jeff Bezos' company and other online retailers from shipping discounted books for free. The measure is designed to protect traditional booksellers who have complained that Amazon is hurting their businesses.

France's fun didn't last long. With the law officially in effect, Amazon announced that it is indeed complying with the terms and charging for shipping—a full one cent. "We are unfortunately not allowed to offer you free shipping for ordering books," Amazon writes in the FAQ section of its website. "We have therefore set delivery fees at one euro-cent for each order that contains books and that is sent by Amazon in order to systematically guarantee you the lowest price for your book orders."

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Where Amazon can't shirk the law so easily is in its second provision: that online retailers can no longer legally discount the price of books. France used to allow retailers to sell books for up to 5 percent off the price set by the publisher but has now limited this privilege to traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Even with one-cent shipping, that promises to give physical bookstores a big edge—but then again, Amazon could appeal the decision to European courts for being anti-competitive.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.

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