The European Commission's anti-trust officials are investigating a row between online retailer Amazon and French publisher Hachette.
The companies themselves - Hachette, the fourth largest U.S. book publisher, is owned by France's Lagadere SCA - have not given details about the basis for the dispute but several media reports have indicated it is over the pricing of e-books.
"We are trying to understand what's going on there. We are looking into this and trying to understand," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in London.
This inquiry might not have any effect on the negotiations, but I suspect it will at least keep both parties from playing dirty - or at least keep Amazon from playing any dirtier.
The EU's antitrust officials have little direct interest in this contract dispute; it is primarily a fight between Amazon.com and Hachette Book Group, both US-based companies. But the regulators are probably interested in how this fight might affect the antitrust settlement that Apple and 4 publishers agreed to in late 2012. That settlement precluded publishers from trying to control the retail price of their ebooks (and other restrictions).
This particular clause is due to expire in late 2014, and as a result we could see Amazon engaging in a similar battle in Europe. Only this time Amazon could be facing up to 4 publishers at once, leading this blogger (and probably the regulators as well) to wonder whether the publishers might conspire again.
Would anyone care to lay odds on that happening?