Steve Redmond on a curiously French approach to supporting hard-pressed record shops

Tuesday June 25, 2013

In matters of economics it is conventional wisdom in the Anglo-Saxon world that the French are plain mad. High taxes, protectionism and a baffling insistence on everyone repeating their scores in French at the Eurovision Song Contest do nothing to endear them to UK and US critical opinion.

Yet what are we to make of their plan apparently to support High Street music retailers with a tax on smartphones and tablets?

According to the Hollywood Reporter and Music Week, that is precisely what French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti is cooking up, with a tax on mobile devices which it is estimated will raise around £68m a year to support physical retailers. The idea is said to reflect growing French concern at the impact on French culture of US-based internet and digital retailers entering the market.

Of course the French have form in this area. Only weeks ago  the prospect of a bilateral free trade treaty between the EU and US was overshadowed by the potential of a French veto if there was no "cultural exception" to protect its domestic music and film industries from the onslaught of Anglo-American content companies.

Although a died-in-the-wool free trader, even I am in no doubt that the world of cinema would be a poorer place without The Artist or Amelie or Leon. There seems little doubt that the distinctive character of French film would simply be wiped out without subsidy and protectionism. And what for? The Hangover Part III?

The chances of the UK Government taking up the French idea and introducing a smartphone tax to support indie retailers are less than zero. It is not even clear that UK retailers who have survived through good times and bad without government handouts would even welcome the idea.

But it's a chastening thought that the £68m the French are considering redistributing to their record shops is likely way in excess of the aggregate combined profits of the entire UK music retail sector, physical, digital and internet.

Maybe the French aren't so mad after all.


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