Amazon’s happy/not so happy 20th birthday: Authors, booksellers call for antitrust probe

Amazon.com began selling books online 20 years ago. Now it sells virtual and printed books, movies, music, diapers, lawn mowers, toys, cloud services, you name it. It may someday deliver goods via drones. It’s got a lot going on, a lot to celebrate.

What better way to celebrate than to sell even more stuff? The company has designated July 15 as Prime Day, when members of its Prime shipping service will be offered deals that are supposedly better than Black Friday deals. (Not to be left out of this extravaganza of instant gratification and conspicuous consumption, Walmart says it’s cranking up the online discounts Wednesday.)

But Amazon’s 20th birthday isn’t entirely happy. Authors and booksellers — who have had a long, complicated relationship with the company — this week are calling for a U.S. antitrust investigation of Amazon. They say the company has been “misusing” the power it has as both a seller and buyer of books.

“We are concerned that the mega-book-retailer Amazon.com has achieved such considerable market power with such questionable business tactics that it is undermining the ecosystem of the entire book industry,” reads the American Booksellers Association’s letter to William Baer, assistant attorney general for the antitrust division of the Department of Justice.

Among other things, the booksellers association points to the high-profile fight between Amazon and publishers last year during contract negotiations. At certain points, Amazon stopped selling titles/delayed deliveries/etc. from publishers such as Hachette.

A position paper by Authors United lays out the power that the company wields: Amazon has more than 75 percent of online sales of printed books; more than 65 percent of e-book sales; more than 40 percent of new-book sales; and about 85 percent of ebook sales of self-published authors.

“What’s at stake here is not merely monopoly control of a commodity,” the paper says. “What is at stake is whether we allow one of the nation’s most important marketplaces of information to be dominated and supervised by a single corporation.”

 

Update: This post originally said authors and publishers are calling for an antitrust investigation of Amazon. It’s been changed to say authors and booksellers.

Photo from AFP/Getty Images

 

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  • SLNH

    You might want to change your article title. Publishers are not involved in this latest appeal to the DOJ.

    • levisu

      Done, thanks for pointing out my error

  • Nirmala Erway

    For a thorough debunking of the ridiculous claims of Authors United and the other
    groups, see this alternative letter to the DOJ:
    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2015/07/joes-letter-to-assistant-attorney.html

 
 
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