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Up the Amazon

The Office of Fair Trading has delayed its verdict thrice before delivering what is plainly a wrong decision—to clear the merger betwen Amazon and The Book Depository. Perhaps the bureaucrat's intention was to show how it agonised over its verdict.

In justifying its bizarre decision, the OFT resolved that taking over The Book Depository would not result in a substantial lessening of competition in the UK, this as TBD only has 2%–4% of the online market. At a basic level this is of course true, that such a small market share swapping ownership can never lead to a “substantial lessening”, but given that Amazon already has 70% to 80% of the market it is a semantic smokescreen of the worst kind. The OFT is ignoring the 800lb gorilla in the room to study the pattern on the carpet.

Even worse, considering that TBD was the biggest online-only competitor to Amazon, and the struggle it had to get to just 4% of the market, a chance like this to shine a spotlight on Amazon is unlikely ever to come again.

Indeed, by the OFT's twisted logic, whoever Amazon took over in the online book trade would not trigger an enquiry, because it could not lead to a “substantial” lessening of competition. Laughably, the OFT even posits that a high level of competition on Amazon's own Marketplace by other retailers continuing post-merger as somehow evidence that the disappearance of TBD would be immaterial. Perhaps the OFT didn't quite understand that Amazon earns money from every transaction on Marketplace.

The rubber-stamping of this deal by the OFT means the best chance to investigate Amazon in 15 years has slipped past. British book retailers, and publishers, are now increasingly threatened by a competitor with almost limitless pockets, intent on customer acquisition at almost any cost. Amazon's range of secretive activities across the book trade threatens to gravely weaken one of Britain's most important creative industries, and the government does nothing.

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Secretive activity? Call a spade a blunt instrument: publishers are flogging their wares to AZ, who are selling them cheaper than they bought them for. Wake up people; deal with the retailers!

The government does nothing, agreed. But the answer lies within the industry. Wouldn't it be a good idea for several publishers all to have the same idea at the same time to lower discounts to Amazon? The product is copyright, so no way they can get it elsewhere. If they won't buy a book that will sell because of a smaller discount, then who loses? Just Amazon.

This business model is clearly designed to blow all competition away (or buy it out) so prices can be increased rapidly, and because they'll be the only game in town, publishers won't have any other outlets for their product. Act now, before it's too late. Clearly government isn't going to stop this monopoly. But publishers, you can.

I keep getting told off for "blaming the publishers" most recently on the education discusion.
but once again I say it - in agreement with above -
PUBLISHERS IT IS YOUR PRODUCT AND SO YOU MAY SELL IT TO WHO YOU WISH AT THE PRICE YOU WISH.
if you only want / need £2.79 for your £7.99 book (65% off), then sell it to all for that price. Dont charge us £4.79 - £5.19 for the same product. IT REALLY IS UP TO YOU.

I look forward to Alan Giles' next column in The Bookseller. As a member of the OFT Board it would be interesting to read his take on this decision, and how this is justified, from the perspective of an insider with many years experience in the UK publishing market. Go Bookseller...

"Wouldn't it be a good idea for several publishers all to have the same idea at the same time to lower discounts to Amazon?"

A nice idea, but not legal.

I knew something was up at the Book Depository when they're customer service got lousy. Soon they'll be sending me ripped or bent books in perfect packaging as Amazon currently does every time I'm desperate enough to buy direct from them.

I don't know if it's just a problem in the warehouse that sends stuff to my area - but it's quite depressing to always have to send stuff back or give in and live with a damaged new book.

Secretive activity? Call a spade a blunt instrument: publishers are flogging their wares to AZ, who are selling them cheaper than they bought them for. Wake up people; deal with the retailers!

The government does nothing, agreed. But the answer lies within the industry. Wouldn't it be a good idea for several publishers all to have the same idea at the same time to lower discounts to Amazon? The product is copyright, so no way they can get it elsewhere. If they won't buy a book that will sell because of a smaller discount, then who loses? Just Amazon.

This business model is clearly designed to blow all competition away (or buy it out) so prices can be increased rapidly, and because they'll be the only game in town, publishers won't have any other outlets for their product. Act now, before it's too late. Clearly government isn't going to stop this monopoly. But publishers, you can.

"Wouldn't it be a good idea for several publishers all to have the same idea at the same time to lower discounts to Amazon?"

A nice idea, but not legal.

I keep getting told off for "blaming the publishers" most recently on the education discusion.
but once again I say it - in agreement with above -
PUBLISHERS IT IS YOUR PRODUCT AND SO YOU MAY SELL IT TO WHO YOU WISH AT THE PRICE YOU WISH.
if you only want / need £2.79 for your £7.99 book (65% off), then sell it to all for that price. Dont charge us £4.79 - £5.19 for the same product. IT REALLY IS UP TO YOU.

I look forward to Alan Giles' next column in The Bookseller. As a member of the OFT Board it would be interesting to read his take on this decision, and how this is justified, from the perspective of an insider with many years experience in the UK publishing market. Go Bookseller...

I knew something was up at the Book Depository when they're customer service got lousy. Soon they'll be sending me ripped or bent books in perfect packaging as Amazon currently does every time I'm desperate enough to buy direct from them.

I don't know if it's just a problem in the warehouse that sends stuff to my area - but it's quite depressing to always have to send stuff back or give in and live with a damaged new book.