Home » Amazon, Ebook Subscriptions, Non-US » French Publisher Trade Group Charges that Kindle Unlimited is Illegal, American

French Publisher Trade Group Charges that Kindle Unlimited is Illegal, American

6 February 2015

From Ink, Bits & Pixels:

While readers are flocking to subscription ebook services in droves, the concept is facing increased legal opposition in France.

In December Fleur Pellerin, the French Minister of Culture, called for the legality of subscription ebook services to be investigated, and now a group of French publishers are taking the position that it is illegal.

The Syndicat National de l’Edition  (SNE) released a statement today which reads (translated by Google):

After careful consideration and legal analysis, the Office of SNE is concluded last December that the subscription offers whose prices are not set by the publishers are not legal, and except as specified by the 2011 Law on the price of digital books, namely the collective use offers proposed for vocational purposes, higher education or research. In these sectors, in fact, multi-subscription offers publishers have long been at the initiative of the publishers themselves, and correspond to the specific characteristics of their business models. In contrast, the market for “mainstream”, the law does not allow multi-vendor subscription offers only subscription offers consist of one editor, who control the price.

. . . .

In letting users read as many books as they want for a flat monthly fee of 10 euros, Amazon is in effect setting the price itself, and SNE believes this is illegal. And they could well be correct, although we will need to wait for the French government to finish its investigation before we know for sure.

Link to the rest at Ink, Bits & Pixels

Amazon, Ebook Subscriptions, Non-US

67 Comments to “French Publisher Trade Group Charges that Kindle Unlimited is Illegal, American”

  1. :headdesk:

    This is why I’m glad I live in a country with a free market. The law is seriously over-involved in this market.

  2. There are a lot of things I love about my country.

    Our government isn’t one of them.

  3. Do they have other subscription services, such as Netflix, in France?

    If they do, the question is the same. If not, that explains it.

    How about subscriptions to other kinds of content, such as medical databases?

  4. @Alicia

    In France we have the “Lang Law” :

    The publisher decides on a price for its book and prints it on the back
    Booksellers are not allowed to sell a book for a discount of more than 5% below the publisher’s price.

    It’s supposed to help save culture… not sure about that. But it certainly helps publishers.

    • It doesn’t. I’ll grant you that the French case isn’t as obvious as the Spanish one, but we have the same law (with the exception of S&H costs) and books are way more expensive here than in the US… before the discount. Check, in French, the price of the Chinese classic “Journey to the West” [La Pérégrination vers l’Ouest], and compare with the US price. Both were translated from Chinese to a Western language with quite a hefty potential readership.

      It doesn’t protect culture. It does, indeed, protect “curators”.

      Take care.

      • Ferran, in the principle, you are maybe right, but your example is not a good one.
        The full version of “Journey to the west” in the US is 4 volumes, each at 24,3 USD, total 97,2 $, and it’s paperback.
        The equivalent in French is 86,32 euros, maybe a bit more expensive BUT it is a luxury hardcover bound in leather, from the very famous collection “La Pleiade” (edit : in two big volumes).
        There is no paperback edition of the same translation of this great Chinese classical book.
        But the paperback version of another one “Au bord de l’eau” (English : outlaws of the marsh) is a very reasonable price of 24,8 euros for 2300 pages in two volumes).

        • Sorry. The version I found worked.

          When using the Spanish ones I tend to use Chinese- or Japanese-original examples. The differences in cost are acute. Same pricing scheme.

          There’s a reason I have bought a handful of translated books since my teens.

          Take care.

          • Naughty girl!

          • Marquejaune,

            😉 You see those from a WAY different POV. I can’t seem to find the edition I recall. The current one says it’s hardcover, at some 60 bucks the volume. Then the Spanish ISBN claims it only has 3 vols (?), so that would only be 180 bucks… if you manage to find the first ones.

            What I recall was a 1 of 4 volume at 48 € some time in the mid-00s. that would have been, back then, something like 70 USD each volume, for a total of 280. Harcopy book taxes have tripled since then. The current edition seems priced at 52€: 58$ these days, quite a bit more in the 00s.

            So, those prices you pointed to me, from a Spanish POV, *ARE* reasonable.

            And I won’t even go into how many more of those books they could have sold at the height of the Sun Wukong mania in the 90s. Not at 50€ a volume, of course.

            Take care.

          • a) Neither French nor Spanish. Language or country.

            b) EBay.

            Meaning. Yes, sure. Those of us who are fluent in English, and ready to browse alternate shops (which start with Amazon-foreign, if they don’t at the local amazon already), have other options. We’ve always had. I used to buy US/UK books through the local SF Mecca, and comics through Advance (not Previews 😉 ). Then came other shops, and Amazon, and Baen, and…

            But I’m not a typical Spaniard. Even those of us who are sort of fluent in English think twice (at the very least) before buying an English book. Before looking other venues, overseas, and give them account details. The culture is different. And, yes, it’s changing. But it’s being imported slowly, in patches that often don’t mesh well together.

            And local distribution is a mess. I bought some sports equipment last week, at almost a THIRD of the local price, S&H included vs. delivery at shop, through a UK seller. Sure, I had to wait about a week. A THIRD of the price. Not the first time (vinyl record cleaner+S&H+customs+DC converter –> a tad above 50% the local price; want more examples?).

            I had a comic shop owner tell me, not so long ago, that if he had to start again, he’d set up a distributor. Watching things some years later, he’d seem dead right, and not only in comics.

            Take care.

          • Oh, I thought Marquejaune wanted an English one.

          • Mir,

            Yes. My bad, I thought you were pointing at the other thread of the dicussion.

            Take care.

        • Wait? That’s not public domain??? Then ignore it. I thought it was. My bad.

          • The original is. The translation, I very much doubt it.

            Take care.

          • Mir (responding to your 10:13 post)
            Unfortunately it is only ONE of the FOUR volumes…
            And I forgot to write in my initial price comparison that the US harcover version of this book is 60 USD a volume (four total),. So here we have a US book, a translation of a chinese classic by a famous scholar, that is TWICE as expensive as the French equivalent.
            I know it is impossible to generalize from this example, but it was just my two cents, to try to show that the almost-soviet state in France (as some people seem to think) does not always make culture and books more expensive.

    • “But it certainly helps publishers”…

      In fact, the Lang law and the other laws that followed in the same spirit were designed not to help the publishers, but the indepedant bookstores against the big retail chains and bookstore chains and later, the online retailers.
      The publishers still have to price properly if they wish to sell.
      As I have often said on this very forum, in France most of fiction is sold in trade paperback, so we do not have the ridiculously exagerated price for hardcovers witnessed in the US.
      That’s why most French readers mostly agree with the “unique book pricing” law.
      Of course you could still find many who would not agree…

      • I’m an American living in France, and I’m totally on board with the policy here. Books are plentiful and cheap. Everybody reads. You go on the metro and you see paperbacks everywhere, peope reading on benches, kids with books in hand. Add to this the fact that I’m a author who hates KU, and I’m an even bigger fan. Creators who are rewarded monetarily for their work sufficiently to support themselves and their families can continue to create unhindered (our Founding Fathers knew that, hence the patent and copyright laws their contributions helped create.) Those who aren’t getting paid enough, can’t or won’t continue to create. I see absolutely nothing wrong with book prices remaining steady. In a race to the bottom, no one wins (except maybe Amazon because then people have more money for the other stuff on their site.) Dropping for reference on the macro and micro economic effects of patents and their effect on innovation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economics_and_patents

        • Hi Elle, it’s over ten years since I lived in France, but I very much remember books being both plentiful and cheap, as you note, and a strong reading culture. However, I have a question for you – and anyone else living in France.

          Are books cheap and plentiful because of the Lang Law? I certainly understand how it has helped independent bookstores stay afloat because there is less price competition with chains (or someone like Amazon), so let’s leave that aside for one moment. But doesn’t it make books more expensive in those stores by preventing most/all discounting?

          My memory is hazy, but I recall books being both cheap and plentiful thanks to the huge number of second-hand bookstores, as well as all those little stalls down by the Seine selling books for next-to-nothing. And, of course, authors and publishers don’t receive any money from the sale of a second-hand book.

          So what I’m wondering is this: while the Lang Law certainly makes it easier for booksellers to stay afloat, does it (somewhat paradoxically) make it harder for authors and publishers by creating a giant shadow market of second-hand book trading from which authors and publishers don’t directly benefit (in monetary terms at least)? And the corollary: would the abolition (or modification) of the Lang Law be better for authors and publishers by allowing booksellers (of all kinds) to price more cheaply and grab some of that giant used book market?

          • David, this is an excellent question and I don’t think I could answer it… too many factors involved. But I have two elements of answer:
            – I do not think the independent booksellers could lower their price down to the second-hand stores’ level, or anything approaching. They already operate at a very, very, very low margin. The mass market paperbacks are very cheap here. However, what has killed many of them in the last years, is more (in my view) the inflation of the rents they have to pay in the cities’ center than the price of books, and the Lang law does not protect them against that…
            – I think what could “grab some of that giant used book market” is, in fact, the e-book, if the publishers could convince themselves to lower the price of the electronic versions of their print books… which they do not want to do.
            I will let others comment if they think they can give a better answer.

          • I live in the US and books are plentiful and cheap. Every drugstore and supermarket has books. Add the indie stores. Add the Walmart/Targets. Add the B&Ns. Plus I can get all sorts of free and inexpensive ebook reads in 30 seconds with my smartphone/tablet/laptop/readers.

            And for those on a tight budget: free ebooks, Project Gutenberg, CCEL, and used bookstores or flea markets where you can get books for a quarter or a buck.

            Plus libraries.

            We need a law to make books plentiful and affordable?

            I think ebooks are the way to go for most affordable or free options. Want folks to have cheap reads: get them apps to get free online classics and cheap ebooks. Ditto KU or Scribd or Oyster.

            I have more free and cheap reads on my Kindle than I have time to read.

          • I live in Germany which has a very similar law on book prices. In fact, it’s practically illegal to do an ebook promotion sale. (Maybe that’s one reason countdown deals are not available on Amazon.de.)

            I personally think that books have become very, very expensive here in the last years. Hardcovers are ~30 Euro, and most paperpacks are huge and sell for 15-20 Euro. Publishers rarely put out mass market paperbacks anymore. Even ebooks are rarely under 10 Euro, if published traditionally.

            Here, the law is said to protect small bookstores, but those still have been mostly picked up by large chains – which are now running into trouble.

            I no longer buy print books if I can avoid it, instead, I buy for my Kindle. If I have to go for print, I buy used, thanks to Amazon. Used book stores are thriving online.

            And the weirdest thing? Print books are sold at a reduced VAT, as they “support culture”. Ebooks are not – we pay full 19% VAT on them now, and they are considered a digital service – but they are still subject to the price fixing law. Doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

          • Hannah,

            the VAT thing is not “German”. It’s an EU directive. And it’s not as much that ebooks are classified as software but that no one thought on network-distributed ebooks.

            You can possibly sell “hardcopy” ebooks at the reduced VAT. You only have to put them in a physical support (CD, SIM card… whatever). I know it works here (Spain), but it’s simply not worth it (harcopy costs, S&H…).

            Take care.

          • Ferran,

            yes, the VAT rule is an EU thing. But the fixed price law is German, and to me, applying that law to a book that’s a “digital service” for tax reasons feels somewhat illogical.

            I like the idea of creating a “physical ebook”. Maybe we could even sell that through Amazon, as well.

  5. It has come as a relief to realize that the US isn’t entirely the most backwards corporate-owned government in the world.

    We’re pretty damn bad, but at least we don’t have this specific problem yet.

  6. I clicked through the link to Ink, Bits & Pixels, and then through to the French article they reference (I’m from Montreal so read French). I don’t see that text they and you are quoting. Not saying it doesn’t exist, just saying it’s not in the articles they’re quoting.

    On the substance, French competition law (their version of antitrust) is different from US because it exists to protect competitors more than consumers, and that would be one reason a flat fee for unlimited books might be illegal if the publishers don’t get to choose whether their books will be involved. But where publishers choose their own involvement, I don’t think there’s much illegal about that.

  7. It could be that the minister and the Syndycat are commenting on legalities without the benefit of a legal opinion.

    From my admittedly American point of view, the copyright holders and their publishers have a right to license their intellectual property as they see fit.

    In most countries, you are not allowed to alienate certain rights, like selling your children or your spouse. It could be that books hold a very special place in French law.

    • I don’t know what’s funnier about your first sentence. “Syndycat” because of the imagery it evoked (as my cat tramples across my desk because while she’s awesome, she’s got no head for legal opinions) or just the “commenting on legalities without the benefit of a legal opinion”. 😀

      Besides, books are babies, didn’t you know?

    • The basis for copyright under French law differs from the basis for copyright under American law.

      I respect the legal decisions of the French, but I do not want to follow them.

    • Books do, in fact, hold a very special place in France. They consider literature one of the great arts (don’t we all?) and they do whatever they feel they can to maintain its importance in French daily life. If you haven’t lived here, it might be hard to appreciate why it’s a good thing, but I can tell you firsthand how easy it is for a country to lose it’s cultural identity when places like the United States (with an ever-evolving cultural identity) have such a strong influence on the youth of France. The French government plays a strong role in our lives here which means that the French culture remains very present and very strong (the reason I’m here) and we get to enjoy really great things like tons of small book stores, excellent nearly free healthcare, and bakeries in every town. 🙂

      • No free healthcare anywhere: taxes pay for it. But I wish we’d get a solid, smart universal healthcare system here. We are very behind on that.

        I don’t care about small bookstores (I once loved them, now I want ebooks at home). I prefer to browse wherever I am a selection of millions, not thousands, sampling from my own sofa or bed or garden bench.

        Unless the bakeries use almond, coconut, rice or other GF flours, not interested. We’re gluten-free (nigh on 4 years now). No French baguettes for moi.

        Now, if you mentioned shorter work week and longer vacations or numerous fresh produce markets, then I might cave. 😀

  8. Sorry, but if it isn’t illegal in this country it ought to be. I don’t like Amazon selling my books at prices that are grossly below what I am asking for. And mind you, they did so without asking my permission, though they did eventually, after I had complained, allow me to take my titles out of Select to avoid KU.

    • You really, really, really, REALLY don’t want EU style book pricing practices. Not unless you ARE the Big 5.

      Take care.

    • They weren’t selling your books. That doesn’t mean your complaint wasn’t valid, it was. They changed the rules on who could borrow and opted you in without asking. Letting you out was the right thing to do.

    • I’m thinking you may want to check out the contract you participate in, and any updates they make to it, because they certainly weren’t stealing anything from you. Opting you in to KU was something they were well within their rights to do.

      • It was a sudden change in the way they did business with me. They owed me advance notice.

        • Not quite.

          Not when the most you had to wait (and you didn’t) was 90 days.

          Imagine a classical publisher changing hands and enforcing certain corners of your contract, then try to get out of it with an email, or even 90 days.

          What they didn’t wasn’t well thought, granted. It was within the letter of the contract.

          And I quite dislike Kindle/mobi, but for other reasons.

          Take care.

  9. It’s now available in the US and 5 countries in Europe, and it’s facing increased opposition both from indie authors, some of whom blame it for a decrease in revenue, and from major publishers.

    Increased opposition? Could be opposition numbers are increasing. But, has there ever been a period when Select membership fell? Seems there are hundreds of thousands of independents who are choosing KU.

    Any reason their selection of Select and KU should be illegal?

    • Well, increased opposition does not equal diminishing success. There’s more opposition to Amazon now than 15 years ago.

      There’s the chance that the pricing advantage of KU-Select might be a tad dubious. I think [no lawyer] that the way that ebooks are taxed as software makes the question moot, but the European publishing industry seems to be trying to think of books as hardcopies in every sense, from what I’ve seen.

      Take care.

      PS: Just a reminder. A good deal of Europe has, basically, agency pricing mandated by law.

  10. The government of France is in the process of stealing one of my books so maybe ce qui est bon pour l’un, ne est pas bon pour l’autre.

  11. Amazon should look at them as you would unruly children and say, “You don’t wish your books in our program? Not a problem, it’s quite easy to just ask and we can remove your books from the program — or from the site if you’d like.
    What’s that? You don’t want other writers’ books in the program? They need only ask — though that would be between us and them, nothing for you to get your nickers bunched up about …”

    Forgot to add:

    Sold or renting? As I didn’t think you ‘kept’ the books. (haven’t used it, so I’m ignorant of the actual rules …)

  12. Here’s the thing I don’t get. If Frito Lay wants to give away chips in a two for one deal, the financial hit is to Frito Lay. Or maybe it’s the grocery store offering loss leaders to bring in customers? But it’s not the farmer who grew the corn.

    I don’t understand how publishers get away with making the amount due to authors dependent on what the book price is.

    Isn’t it the publisher’s job is to promote the book, through advertising and other avenues? I was astonished when I learned here that the author’s piece of pie could be decreased by promotional prices. I understand that’s how the contracts are set up, but geesh, what a crummy deal it is.

    • Just one of many reasons why authors are increasingly going Indie.

    • Makes no sense to me. When the publisher vastly gets a larger percentage, they should take the hit if they choose to do discounts/promos. The author’s portion should not in any way be diminished without written consent per event of promotion. And authors should be able to say, “Nope.”

      • Deep discount clauses were originally intended to allow for the clearance sale of remaindered books instead of returning them at publisher expense. Then the clause was applied to high volume buyers like Costco and most recently (according to some reports around here) to discounted ebooks. The next logical step is applying it to subscription ebooks.

        Until somebody Eminem’s the publishers they’ll keep on pushing the envelope to keep their overlords at HQ happy.

        • Until somebody Eminem’s the publishers they’ll keep on pushing the envelope to keep their overlords at HQ happy.

          Felix, I think I understand the sentiment of the sentence but could you explain the Eminem reference? Is this the singer your referring to or the candy and why? 🙂 I know I’m showing my age. 🙂

  13. Interesting. When KU first started, the German publishers and booksellers association (who are NOT fans of Amazon) also made grumblings whether such services were even legal or whether they violated the fixed book price agreement. If they’d seen a reason to sue, I’m pretty sure they would have. But they didn’t. I suspect this has to do with the fact that there already are two or three e-book subscription services plus a library e-book lending program operating in Germany and the publishers and booksellers association chose not to get involved.

    Another reason might be that subscription services just aren’t very popular in Germany in general. Spotify does decent business, though the fact that some phone companies bundle almost impossible to remove Spotify subscriptions with regular smartphone services might have something to do with that. But judging by the increasingly aggressive ad campaigns of Netflix and Amazon Prime, I suspect they don’t have many subscribers. As for KU, so far the verdict in Germany seems to be “Not worth it”, since it has hardly any German trad pub books and not a whole lot of German indie books. Plus, one of the competing services is a free, but ad based model.

  14. “French Publisher Trade Group Charges that Kindle Unlimited is Illegal, American”

    I wonder which one they think is worse?

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.