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Amazon faces European anti-trust probe over e-books distribution

RBR Staff Writer Published 12 June 2015

Amazon has found itself in the center of yet another controversy with the European Commission formally opening an antitrust investigation into the retailer’s business practices over the distribution of e-books.


The commission is particularly focusing on certain clauses included in Amazon's contracts with publishers, which require them to give Amazon terms that are as favorable as for any competitor.

The commission believes that such clauses undermine the competitive spirit and put other e-book distributors at a disadvantage. It also limits choices for consumers, which is in violation of EU antitrust rules.

EU antitrust rules specifically prohibit the abuse of a dominant market position and restrictive business practices.

In a statement, EU commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said: "Amazon has developed a successful business that offers consumers a comprehensive service, including for e-books. Our investigation does not call that into question.

"However, it is my duty to make sure that Amazon's arrangements with publishers are not harmful to consumers, by preventing other e-book distributors from innovating and competing effectively with Amazon. Our investigation will show if such concerns are justified."

E-books in English and German will be the initial focus of the commission's probe.

Reacting to the probe, Amazon said: "we're confident that our agreements with publishers are legal and in the best interests of readers."

The company said it would "cooperate fully during this process."

European Commission earlier opened investigation in the e-books sector way back in December 2011 against Apple and five international publishing houses, including Penguin Random House, Hachette Livres, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Georg von Holtzbrinck Verlagsgruppe, over concerns of colluding to limit retail price competition.

The issue was resolved in subsequent years when the respective companies committed to various concerns addressed by the commission.

Amazon is already facing a separate investigation by European authorities over its complex tax practices in Luxembourg.

Image: Amazon is the largest e-book publisher in Europe. Photo: courtsey of Wikipedia.