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.
France is one of a number of countries in Western Europe that has fixed price book laws which require booksellers to offer books at the prices set by publishers.
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.
Kindle Unlimited launched in France just under two month ago with around 20,000 titles in French and over 700,000 titles in English and other languages. 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.
Arnaud Nourry, the CEO of Hachette Livre, has gone on the record in opposition to the idea of subscription ebooks. The French blog IDBoox quoted him as saying in December that Hachette will be the last to get into this market.
Hachette Livre is the parent company of Hachette Book Group, one of the two Big 5 US publishers which have yet to sign deals with any of the subscription ebook services (the other publisher is Penguin Random House).
image by jeroen_bennink