Amazon vs French Culture

The French government recently passed a law, the essence of which was that online retailers were forbidden to discount books or offer free shipping. Why? Because the business that they acquire in doing so is believed to take away from a uniquely French cultural institution, the small bookstore.

Apparently, France has 3000 independent bookstores. And if some portion of them went away because of Amazon, it would be a tragedy for that vaunted French culture. You can imagine, of course, why Amazon would be such a threat: near infinite selection, great pricing, maximum convenience, etc.

But if you put all this together, you have to wonder who really is concerned about the preservation of French culture– the French people or the French government. Because clearly, if the French people are buying more and more books from Amazon, they must not be that concerned with the imminent loss of the French cultural treasure of the independent bookstore. And if the French people aren’t that concerned about the loss of part of their culture, I question why the French government concerns itself with it. (Or are they perhaps simply protecting French commerce, and using the cultural angle as a cover?)

Of course, I consider this abiding concern over the loss and dilution of French culture (of which we’ve seen many examples in recent years) to be another example of what is really French narcissism. They have moved many times over the years to protect their wines, their cheeses and other items from the inevitable intrusion by foreign competition and copycats. Some of this is meant to protect French commerce, but I think a lot of it is simply French self-obsession, for which the French appear to be famous.

Anyway, Vive l’Amazon for prompting the French government to do something about the encroachment of the 21st century on French culture, about which the French people apparently care a great deal. Perhaps the French government should outlaw the Internet in France, to eliminate more threats to French culture.