From The Economist:
A book is so much more than mere ink and paper. So insist French booksellers, who for nearly four decades have successfully lobbied to keep the forces of the free market at bay. A law passed in 1981 bans the sale of any book at anything other than the price decreed by its publisher. Authorities are cracking down on those trying to flog the latest Thomas Piketty or j.k. Rowling at a discount.
The fixed-price rule is meant to keep customers loyal to their local bookshop and out of the clutches of supermarkets and hypercapitaliste American corporations. But the advent of e-commerce and e-readers has prompted questions worthy of their own tomes. Can you fix the price of a book if it is part of an all-you-can-read subscription service? Are audiobooks books at all? And what of authors who self-publish?
Tweaks have been made to preserve the principle of one book, one price. In 2011 the rule began to apply to digital tomes. Free delivery by online sellers was prohibited on the grounds it implied a subsidy on the delivered books (prompting websites to charge all of €0.01 for postage). But a new challenge to the policy is proving thornier.
Used books are exempt from the pricing rule. Third-party sellers on Amazon are accused of using this as a way to apply forbidden discounts: selling brand-new books as “second-hand” to make them cheaper. So fans of bleak fiction can purchase a copy of the latest Michel Houellebecq novel, “Sérotonine”, for €11.71 ($13.21) on Amazon, roughly half its mandated price. Its seller claims it is in “perfectly new” condition.
Amazon claims its practices are legal. But booksellers are fuming, and their political allies with them.
. . . .
Even with a plethora of subsidies, bookshops are among the least profitable retail businesses. Books are expensive in France—an odd way to encourage people to buy more. For now, constraining the market in the name of l’exception culturelle remains an article of faith for French policymakers. “On the internet you find what you look for,” Mr Riester told his literary allies. “But only in a bookshop do you find what you were not looking for.”
Link to the rest at The Economist
PG suggests that ebooks and the Internet make protectionist laws difficult, if not impossible, to enforce without governments attempting to disable the Internet.
PG has always loved books and bookstores, but acquiring a book through a physical bookstore is becoming a rarer and rarer practice for him (and, from the looks of the physical bookstores he has entered in the past couple of years, for a lot of other readers as well).
Amazon has spoiled PG by feeding his appetite for books on obscure and exotic topics (as perceived by most other readers) and, fortunately, PG’s local library offers an enormous online collection of ebooks through a regional library association, so an unrealistically high online price set by a publisher can also be avoided.
As an example, via Overdrive through his local library, PG is currently reading the ebook version of the English translation of Stalingrad, by Ukranian author (and Jew) Vasily Grossman, a long-suppressed book about the epic siege of that city by the German army during World War II. (PG first mentioned the book here.)
Given the publisher’s price for the printed version of Stalingrad, PG might not have risked adding it to his large collection of abandoned-partway-through-because-it-turned-out-not-to-be-PG’s-cup-of-tea physical books. Also, PG is less entranced by the chest-loading involved in reading thousand-page printed books while lying in bed than he was in former days.
Regarding the OP’s characterization of happy accidents of discovery in price-fixed physical bookstore, PG thinks most readers are far more likely to experience such discoveries online rather than in meatspace.