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Letter to House Protests Amazon’s Oversized Market Share

Miriam Herin reads at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro

Following the House Antitrust Subcommittee’s capstone digital markets hearing, “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google,” three groups representing thousands of authors, publishers, and booksellers in the United States – the Association of American Publishers, Authors Guild, and American Booksellers Association – have sent a joint letter to Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.) enumerating a series of anti-competitive tactics that permit Amazon to exercise extraordinary market dominance over the advertising and sale of books in digital markets. Its practices against both book suppliers and book customers have threatened the vitality of the American publishing industry and rendered any meaningful competition from other publishers, booksellers, or emerging platforms impossible.

We tried and failed to improve on this concise timeline offered up by the AAP on their website, so we just gave it to you straight. Bottomline, three very large literary organizations are taking Amazon to task for what they view as nefarious business practices. The letter was sent to Subcommittee Rep. David Ciccillinne (D-RI), and represents the voice of “thousands of American authors, publishers, and booksellers who are being squashed by Amazon’s outsized control of over every aspect of the book trade, from rights to marketing, supply, and distribution.”

Amazon controls 35 percent of e-commerce in the United States. In terms of the literary arts, Amazon represents 75 percent of e-book sales and “also has its own ebook publishing business, for which it has never disclosed any data.” Amazon controls a “generally recognized 50 percent or more of the American (book) market.

Specifically, the letter asks for reforms that would prohibit Amazon from i) leveraging data from its online platform to subdue competitors, ii) tying its distribution services to its advertising services, iii) imposing MFNs, and iv) using a “loss-leader” pricing strategy (selling products below cost to undercut competition) to corner the market. These and other reforms are urgently needed to ensure that the book industry remains competitive, diverse, and resourceful enough to welcome new voices.

Barry C. Lynn, Executive Director of the Open Markets Institute, which “uses research and journalism to expose the dangers of monopolization, identifies changes in policy and law to address them, and educates…stakeholders to establish open, competitive markets that support a strong, just, and inclusive democracy,” wrote a scathing letter in Harper’s, charging that the oversized share of the market controlled by Amazon, Facebook, and Google is nothing short of extortion.

In closing their letter to the House Antitrust Subcommittee, the signees noted that “the American Book Publishing Industry is and always has been uniquely intertwined with our democracy. Many authors, publishers, and booksellers along the way have contributed to the marketplace of ideas.”

The letter was signed by Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of AAP; Mary E. Rasenberger, Executive Director of The Authors Guild; and Allison K. Hill, Executive Director of ABA.

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