Trade responds to EC Digital Single Market proposals

Trade responds to EC Digital Single Market proposals

The Booksellers Association has said it hopes the European Commission’s competition inquiry into the e-commerce sector will look specifically at market dominance in e-books.

The EC revealed yesterday (6th May) that it would hold an antitrust competition inquiry into the e-commerce sector in the European Union, as part of 16 initiatives on a digital single market to be delivered by the end of next year. As part of its inquiry, the EC will look at cross-border trade in digital content and the BA hopes it will study issues around accessibility and interoperability in e-books.

Tim Godfray, c.e.o of The Booksellers Association, said he was “interested” to see that the EC has launched this enquiry into cross-border trade and the trade body “looked forward to reading the full terms of the investigation.”

He added: “We hope the enquiry will review the market for e-books across the EC and issues around accessibility, interoperability and market dominance in particular.”

The e-commerce inquiry will allow the Commission to identify possible competition concerns affecting European e-commerce markets, with the potential for subsequent investigations into issues such as abuse of dominant market positions.
It will also focus on “potential barriers erected by companies to cross-border online trade in goods and services where e-commerce is most widespread such as electronics, clothing and shoes, as well as digital content”.

An Amazon spokesperson told The Bookseller the company “agreed with the vision of Europe as a single market” and looked forward to working with the Commission.

“Amazon has approached Europe as a single market since we launched here more than 15 years ago,” a spokesperson said.

“We operate websites in five different languages with over 100 million products, and we operate an integrated network of 28 fulfillment centers that ship these products to customers across the EU.”

It added it also enabled small-and-medium sized businesses to offer their products to customers across Europe – “in fact, in the past year alone, Amazon’s Europe-based sellers earned more than 2.8 billion euros in revenue from cross-border sales within Europe,” the company said.

Meanwhile, Blackwell's digital director Kieron Smith said the company welcomed any initiative from the EC which would enhance the cross-border purchase experience for customers which was "always central to the Blackwell’s proposition online and in our shops."

He said: "Where barriers currently do exist to sales across the community, they’re often as a result of the patchwork of VAT applied, in addition to limited access, cross-border, to supply of some country’s titles - books in French for example. These challenges, in combination with fixed price selling rules, are significant barriers to a true single market for books."

Among the EC’s proposed actions on the digital single market is a “modern, more European copyright law”, with the Commission saying that “legislative proposals will follow before the end of 2015 to reduce the differences between national copyright regimes and allow for wider online access to works across the EU, including through further harmonisation measures”.

Richard Mollet, c.e.o of the Publishers Association, said the digital single market was a “reality” for publishing, and added that today’s White Paper from the Commission included some “sensible” proposals for extending this.

 “It is right that the Commission commits itself to making an assessment of the need for greater certainty around copyright and we look forward to engaging in that process. Such an assessment should be thorough and complete before any legislative proposals are drafted,” he said.

The British Chambers of Commerce, meanwhile, thinks that the EU single market, whether traditional or digital, will only maintain its legitimacy among businesspeople if it is perceived to function in the interests of all firms.

John Longworth, director general of the BCC, said: “For too long the completion of the single market in digital services has moved forward at a snail’s pace. On the face of it, the EU Commission’s new proposals go some way to addressing the barriers digital firms encounter when trading within the EU. However, with these initiatives, the devil is in the detail. The Commission and Whitehall must have a laser sharp focus on protecting firms from the risk of additional burdens and unintended consequences stemming from new regulation."