Authors ask the government to investigate Amazon

The Authors Guild met with Justice Department officials to ask the agency to launch an investigation into Amazon, expressing concern that the retail giant might be violating antitrust law in its fight with Hachette over e-book terms.

Rick Wilking/Reuters
A just-delivered Amazon box is seen on a counter in Golden, Colorado.

Following months of criticism for its tactics with Hachette in an ongoing e-book pricing dispute, Amazon is again facing intense scrutiny.

The Authors Guild, the country’s largest advocacy group for writers, confirmed Thursday that it met with Justice Department officials in early August to ask the government agency to launch an investigation into Amazon.

The Guild specifically cited concerns that the retailer is violating antitrust law in its fight with Hachette over e-book terms and asked the DOJ to investigate.

“The Guild has consistently opposed Amazon’s recent and ruthless tactics of directly targeting Hachette authors, which have made these authors into helpless victims in a business dispute between two big corporations,” it said in a statement on its website. “This action has caused thousands of writers to see a significant drop in their royalty checks. The Authors Guild challenges this threat to the literary ecosystem, one that jeopardizes the individual livelihoods of authors.”

“The Guild started its own initiative to invite governmental scrutiny of Amazon’s outsize market share and anticompetitive practices in the publishing industry,” it said.

When contacted by the Monitor, Amazon declined to comment.

The Amazon-Hachette dispute, which is now entering its sixth month, centers on e-book terms, including how e-books will be priced and how revenue will be split. Authors have complained of Amazon’s tactics in the dispute, including removing pre-order buttons, reducing discounts offered, and delaying shipment on Hachette titles.

As a result, sales of Hachette titles have suffered, in some cases significantly. According to a letter sent to Amazon’s board of directors last month by Authors United, Amazon’s “sanctions” on Hachette titles drove some Hachette authors sales down by 50 percent, and in some cases, as much as 90 percent. The letter stated that some writers were “deeply concerned" about what this meant for “their future careers.” 

The Authors Guild is calling it an abuse of power by Amazon and has reached out to the DOJ to investigate.

According to reports, Authors United is also planning to ask the Justice Department “to investigate Amazon for potential antitrust violations.”

Of course, the request doesn’t necessarily mean the DOJ will pursue an investigation.

When the Guild appealed to the DOJ, “Justice Department lawyers listened attentively, but said this wasn't an indication of whether the government would launch such a probe,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Guild’s letter can be found in full at its website.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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