US: authors ask DOJ to investigate Amazon

US: authors ask DOJ to investigate Amazon

Author protest group Authors United is asking authors to sign a letter to the US Justice Department, asking it "to examine Amazon's control of the book market." The letter has been drafted with the help of the Authors Guild. Meanwhile both the American Booksellers Association and the Association of Authors Representatives have "strongly endorsed it", said author Douglas Preston [pictured], who sent out the request to authors yesterday (13th July) on behalf of Authors United.

The letter will be submitted in late July, Preston said.

The letter outlines Amazon's market share in physical and e-book sales in the US market, putting it at more than 75% of online sales of physical books, more than 65% of e-book sales, more than 40% of sales of new books and about 85% of e-book sales from self-published authors.

It goes on to say: "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."

Examples cited by Authors United include Amazon's blocking and curtailing of "the sale of millions of books by thousands of authors" in order to pressure publishers over the past 11 years; "content control" during its dispute with Hachette in 2014, in which it sold "some books but not others based on the author's prominence or political leanings"; the extraction of "an ever greater share of the total price of a book from publishers" resulting in publishers dropping some mid list authors and voiding riskier books "effectively silencing many voices"; selling books below cost over many years resulting in "price deflation across the industry" and reducing publishers' ability to invest in new books, "depriving readers of wider choice"; and "dictating" pricing to self-published authors, "requiring them to price their books within a specific range or be subjected to a 50% cut in royalties."

"Over the years, Amazon has benefitted readers and authors in many ways. But no temporary price cut can compensate for the costs to free expression and the health of America's book industry that have resulted from Amazon's abuse of its dominance in the world of books," the letter says. "Accordingly 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…."

Amazon's UK press office has yet to respond to a request for comment on the Authors United claims.

Authors United became active during the tough terms dispute between Amazon and Hachette US last year, when it took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times calling on Amazon to end the dispute, featuring a letter signed by a roster of prominent authors including James Patterson, Stephen King, Lee Child, Philip Pullman, David Baldacci, Donna Tartt and Tracy Chevalier.

During the same dispute, a number of authors, mostly self-published through the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing programme, defended the retailer.

Authors United has vowed to develop a "long-term strategy" in relation to Amazon.

Amazon is currently the subject of a formal European Commission investigation into its e-book distribution practices and its relationship with publishers.

Tim Godfray, chief executive at the Booksellers Association, commented, on the latest US development: "We are pleased to see ABA joining forces with authors and literary agents to lobby the DOJ to follow the lead set in the EU and investigate fair competition in the book market. We are keeping up the pressure on the UK and EU authorities to make sure the investigations started here address the key issues in the market."