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Originally published June 24, 2014 at 4:55 PM | Page modified June 25, 2014 at 11:17 AM

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German book publishers accuse Amazon of antitrust violation

The complaint comes nearly two months after Amazon began delaying shipments of titles from Bonnier, a leading publishing group in Germany, as part of a dispute over dividing revenue from e-book sales. Amazon is engaged in a similar struggle with Hachette in the U.S.


The New York Times

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BERLIN — German book publishers have filed a complaint with the country’s antitrust authority against Amazon, accusing the online retailer of violating competition laws and asking the government to investigate.

The complaint, filed last week but announced Tuesday, comes nearly two months after Amazon began delaying shipments of titles from Bonnier, a leading publishing group in Germany, as part of a dispute over dividing revenue from e-book sales. Amazon is engaged in a similar struggle with Hachette in the United States.

“Amazon’s business conduct not only affects those publishers involved, but poses a danger to all who offer e-books in Germany,” reads the complaint by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. The group submitted its complaint to the Bundeskartellamt, the federal antitrust authority, on Friday. The document continues: “We call on the Bundeskartellamt to open an investigation and halt Amazon’s actions.”

Amazon did not respond Tuesday to repeated requests for comment.

Germany, the birthplace of modern printing technology, has a proud tradition of book publishing. Special laws are intended to keep competition among booksellers to a minimum to create an environment that makes it easier for lesser-known authors to be published.

But the cozy world of German publishing has been slow to adapt to the Internet age, whether in online sales or digital publishing. That has left a vacuum, which Amazon has moved to fill. The U.S. company, according to industry estimates, controls as much as 70 percent of the German market for online sales of printed and electronic books.

Germany is Amazon’s largest market outside the U.S. Its earnings in Germany reached $2.6 billion last year. If the retailer is found guilty of violating German competition law, it could be fined or ordered to change its behavior.

The antitrust agency on Tuesday confirmed receipt of the 22-page formal complaint. After reviewing it, the government will decide whether there are sufficient grounds to find that Amazon held a market-dominant position and so can be investigated for potential antitrust violations.

That process could take several weeks and hinges on whether the online market can be viewed as being independent from traditional brick-and-mortar bookshops.

“For the publishers,” the complaint said, “it is indispensable to be listed on Amazon, as the largest selling platform for books on the Internet in Germany.”

The association accuses Amazon of abusing its “market dominant” position and argues that because many people use Amazon as a modern card catalog to explore which books are available, if an author is not listed, a reader would assume that the writer has not published any books.

“Whoever is not listed on Amazon doesn’t exist in the eyes of a reader,” the association said.

In early May, authors published by Bonnier, one of Germany’s largest media groups, noticed that Amazon was delaying shipments of their books, just as reports emerged that the online retailer was taking similar action against Hachette in the U.S. Bonnier later confirmed that it was in negotiations with Amazon about how to share the earnings of its electronic books.

Some titles from Bonnier publishers are still listed on Amazon as not being available to ship for as long as 11 days, instead of the next-day deliveries that are standard for books ordered through Germany booksellers.

The publishers contend that Amazon’s action should be considered “extortion.”



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