France Lets Book Publishers Fix Minimum E-book Prices

“French publishers can rejoice,” reports the country’s L’Express. “They should now be able to impose a single selling price for all digital books sold in France, including those from foreign platforms like Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) or Google.”

France’s national assembly has passed a bill (full passage here) which would allow publishers to effectively fix the minimum price of e-books, just as printed books, sold there – a move seemingly designed to maintain publishers’ income as the industry moves toward an environment in which many books are sold very cheaply as e-books.

Politicians have even tried to ensure the bill encompasses not just French-based e-book sellers but retailers located anywhere who sell e-books in to France. Les Echos: “This will apply to online booksellers based in France and retailers based abroad like Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), Amazon and Google.” This is just the latest measure in which French legislators are trying to safeguard their indigenous cultural owners from influences they regard as if not outright imperialistic then certainly potentially detrimental.

At the World E-Reading Congress this month, HarperCollins international CEO Victoria Barnsley warned about low prices. “Can publishers replace their lost revenues from physical through digital sales? The answer is probably ‘no’, unless they can significantly grow volumes. Signs are, consumers expect e-books to be priced considerably lower than physical books. In the current e-book Top 50 on Kindle, there are only five titles priced at £5 or above.”

Despite the French bill’s passing, there is consternation, particularly from one politician, Lionel Tardy of president Sarkozy’s ruling UMP, who says that is incompatible with European Union law and is sure to be contested by European Commission regulators.

Les Echos reports Spain is adopting similar measures, with Netherlands set to follow.