Booksellers raise Amazon monopoly concerns with European Commission

A meeting this week was part of a push by booksellers and authors to curb Amazon's power

Booksellers have met with European Commission officials to discuss their concerns that Amazon holds a monopoly in the online book market.

The booksellers urged the Commission to make sure that consumers will have a rich and diversified online book offering, said Françoise Dubruille, director of the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), the umbrella organization for the EU's national booksellers associations. The group met this week with Despina Spanou, director for consumer policy at the European Commission, she said.

"In the end, if you only have one big retailer on the market like Amazon, this retailer will impose its bargaining, its rebate and its commercial conditions on the publishers. And if publishers have limited choice in retail channels they will be squeezed by that giant retailer," Dubruille said.

If that happens, publishers will have less money to invest in new books, which would damage cultural diversity, she said.

Consumer organizations don't seem to be aware of this issue, so "it would be a good idea" if the Commission pushed the BEUC, which advocates for European consumers, to start an inquiry among its members to raise awareness, Dubruille said.

A Commission spokesman said the discussion this week covered consumer policy issues.

The meeting came in the wake of mounting pressure on authorities in the EU and U.S. to curb what booksellers claim is Amazon's abuse of its market power.

Authors in the U.S. met with Justice Department officials in early August, seeking a government investigation into Amazon's e-book business practices, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

In June, the German Publishers and Booksellers Association filed an official complaint against Amazon with the Bundeskartellamt, Germany's federal antitrust authority.

The association accused the company of "extortive activities against publishers" because Amazon has delayed deliveries of printed books from a leading German publishing group in order to force higher discounts for the sale of e-books. This would give Amazon clear advantages over other purchasers of electronic books and violate antitrust laws, according to the German publishers.

The German antitrust authority shared the complaint with the European Commission's Competition branch. However, no official procedure has started.

"We are trying to understand the issues involved," said a spokesman for that branch. "We work closely with national competition authorities, including the Bundeskartellamt, on antitrust matters."

Dubruille said that even though the issue was flagged with the competition authority, it is important to also discuss it with Commission officials who oversee consumer issues.

Similar issues with Amazon were also raised in the U.K., where booksellers asked the competition authority last month to start a market inquiry into Amazon's dominance, the Financial Times reported. According to the publishers, the "book retail market in the U.K. suffers from a chronic and debilitating imbalance for authors, publishers and booksellers."

Antitrust complaints from other national bookseller associations might follow, too. "Other national associations are probably reflecting at the moment if they want to do the same [as the Germans] or not," said Dubruille, though she could not say which country would likely be next.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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