Authors United asks DOJ for Amazon probe

Authors United asks DOJ for Amazon probe

Campaign group Authors United has written to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to ask it to investigate Amazon, which it says has “gained unprecedented power over America’s market for books”.

The letter, signed by 575 authors including Scott Turow, Nelson DeMille and Nora Roberts and submitted yesterday (Thursday 20th August), says that the signatories agreed with the authorities "in economics and law who have asserted that Amazon’s dominant position makes it a monopoly as a seller of books and a monopsony as a buyer of books”.

“In recent years, Amazon 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,” says the letter.

Authors United was set up by writer Douglas Preston during the dispute between Amazon and Hachette Book Group in the US.

In its letter to the DOJ, Authors United said that to pressure publishers over the past 11 years, Amazon "has blocked and curtailed the sale of millions of books by thousands of authors” and “during its dispute with Hachette in 2014, appears to have engaged in content control, selling some books but not others based on the author’s prominence or the book’s political leanings”.

It also makes a series of accusations, including saying “Amazon has used its monopsony power, and its ability to threaten punishment, to extract an ever greater share of the total price of a book from publishers” which has “resulted in publishers dropping some midlist authors and not publishing certain riskier books, effectively silencing many voices”.

The letter also says: “Amazon routinely sells many types of books below cost in order to acquire customers for unrelated lines of business and to drive less well capitalised retailers – like Borders – out of business.

“This practice, extending over many years, has caused price deflation across the industry and reduced the amount of revenue available for publishers to invest in new books, thus depriving readers of wider choice."

The letter ends by saying: “We respectfully request that the Antitrust Division investigate Amazon's power over the book market, and the ways in which that corporation exercises its power, bearing in mind the very special constitutional sensitivities that have historically been applied to any business that has established effective control of a medium of communication.”

Amazon refused to comment on the letter to the Wall Street Journal, and a Justice Department spokesman told the newspaper that the agency would review the group’s materials.