Amazon.com is being punished by the French government for offering free shipping:
The Tribunal de Grande Instance (a French appeals court) in Versailles ruled back in December that Amazon was violating the country’s 1981 Lang law with its free shipping offer. That law forbids booksellers from offering discounts of more than 5 percent off the list price, and Amazon was found to be exceeding that discount when the free shipping was factored in.
The company was told to start charging within ten days or pay a daily fine. It also owes €100,000 to the French Booksellers’ Union for the court battle and for the losses it has apparently caused them. With the holidays over and the ten-day grace period over, Amazon has officially announced its plan to ignore the court order and pay the fine instead, according to the International Herald Tribune.
Amazon can do so for 30 days (€30,000), but after that time the court will review the fine. They could raise it, or they could lower it, but given that Amazon has chosen to flip the justices the bird, guess which outcome is more likely? At some point, if Amazon doesn’t change its ways, the fine will probably be jacked up so high that the company has no choice but to comply.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, has taken to the virtual airwaves to rally the French public in support of Amazon’s free shipping. He sent out a recent e-mail to French customers in which he claimed that “France would be the only country in the world where the free delivery practiced by Amazon would be declared illegal.” He then asked people to sign an online petition that has so far garnered more than 120,000 signatures.
I am glad that an American CEO is defending his company’s right to engage in mutually voluntary rational trade (and in the process save money for his customers). I don’t know whether Bezos is doing it in a principled fashion that gets to the moral fundamentals or if he’s only making a pragmatic argument.