Authors call for Amazon’s dominance in e-book sales to be investigated

13 Jul 2015

Amazon was likely celebrating when its rival Apple was found guilty of overcharging consumers by millions of dollars for e-books last year. Now, though, a number of US-based authors organisations have called for authorities to investigate the online retail giant for using its market dominance to harm the interests of American readers.

Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of Authors’ Representatives and Authors United have all penned letters to the Department of Justice claiming that Amazon has violated antitrust laws and has used “its dominance in ways that we believe harm the interests of America’s readers, impoverish the book industry as a whole, damage the careers of (and generate fear among) many authors, and impede the free flow of ideas in our society”, according to The New York Times.

Amazon, founded almost two decades ago as an online bookstore, has enjoyed as much as 90pc of the market share in e-books over the years. In 2010, Apple, launching the iPad at the time, attempted to wrangle some industry control from the commerce giant by making a deal with five major publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins, Holtzbrinck, Simon & Schuster and Penguin. A judge, however, agreed with Amazon claims that this was an illegal collusion to impose higher prices. “The irony of this decision is that Apple’s actions actually helped to open the e-book market and to reduce Amazon’s monopoly from a 90pc market share in 2009 to around 67pc today,” wrote Roxana Robinson, president of The Authors Guild, in a document obtained by The New York Times.

The challenge against Amazon is said to have been sparked by last year’s conflict between the company and Hachette, America’s fourth largest book publisher, over e-book prices. During the dispute, Amazon made it more difficult for consumers to buy Hachette titles.

Whether or not the Department of Justice decides to pursue Amazon remains to be seen. The company is, however, currently being scrutinised by the European Commission (EC) after the organisation last month opened an antitrust investigation into Amazon’s e-book sales, alleging that the company’s attitude to how it sells e-books is anti-competitive and unfair to other distributors.

Dean Van Nguyen was a contributor to Silicon Republic