Germany's Federal Cartel Office, the Bundeskartellamt, is now looking into the audiobook agreement between Apple and Audible, the regulatory watchdog announced in a press release on Monday.
The two companies have a long-term contract where Audible acts as the main supplier of audiobooks sold in iTunes. The Cartel Office will now examine whether that agreement means that German audiobook publishers do not have real alternatives when distributing of its digital audiobooks.
"The two companies have a strong position in the digital range of audiobooks in Germany. Therefore, we feel compelled to examine the agreement between these two competitors in the audiobook market in more detail," cartel office chief Andreas Mundt said in the press release.
The statement goes on to add that the Federal Cartel Office is in close contact with the European Commission, and that the investigation was begun at the request of Boersenverein, the German book industry trade group, which had lodged a complaint with the Bundeskartellamt earlier this year.
Boersenverein had claimed that Audible's estimated 90% share of the German digital audiobook market enabled it to impose life-threatening conditions on publishers, including forcing them to agree to a new contract. According to rumors which leaked earlier this year, that contract allowed for a new all-you-can-listen audiobook service along the lines of Pandora or Audible Unlimited in Japan.
With physical audiobooks still making up 80% of that market (and audiobooks making up only a small share of overall book industry revenues), according to GfK, the claim of life-threatening conditions has little substance or merit, but it was enough to draw the attention of the Bundeskartellamt.
Needless to say, Boersenverein is pleased with the development.
"We welcome the fact that the Bundeskartellamt our presentation as an occasion takes to initiate a procedure and the agreement between the Amazon subsidiary Audible and Apple reviewed more closely. Audio book publishers need an adequate opportunity to distribute their audio books also independent of Audible. This is not possible in the current constellation. The victims are not only audio book publishers but also booksellers and the intermediate book trade and at the end of the readers and listeners, since such a policy threatens the cultural diversity and the quality of the book market, "Alexander Skipis, chief executive of Boersenverein, said in an statement.
In related news, Amazon is also the subject of an EU antitrust investigation which is focused on Amazon's ebook contracts with publishers. That contract is ongoing.
image by neetalparekh