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Authors United Pulls the Trigger

4060703242_55286d5286_oAuthors United has finally followed through on the promise they made last fall.

The WSJ reported yesterday that AU has formally requested that the US Dept of Justice investigate Amazon for antitrust violations:

A group of prominent authors says Inc. has “unprecedented power” over the book publishing market and wants the U.S. Department of Justice to begin an investigation of what it claims is a monopoly.

On Thursday, the Authors United group submitted a formal request to the DOJ’s top antitrust official. The group formed last year in response to Amazon’s bruising negotiations with publisher Hachette Book Group, primarily over pricing.

The letter in question can be found on the website of The Authors Guild. You can download the PDF and read it if you like, but if you’ve been following this story then it probably will not be worth your time.

I’ve run the text of the letter through a text comparison site and I can report that the letter posted yesterday is identical to the one which was posted when this media circus kicked off last month. That earlier letter can be found on the ABA website.

Aside from the detail that the letter was sent, there’s really nothing new to report today. The DoJ has yet to respond, so there’s no way to tell at this time whether it will regard this letter as having legal merit.

Update: It’s been pointed out over on TPV that when Authors United started writing the letter last October, they had a thousand names. The letter sent to the DoJ only had 575 names.

image by The Itsy Bitsy Spider

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fjtorres August 21, 2015 um 10:22 am

They’d better hope the DOJ doesn’t respond publicly.

Timothy Wilhoit August 21, 2015 um 11:02 am

Such as "Yes, Lord Preston, we’ve decided to conduct an investigation…of The Cartel?" It would be like last time, the DoJ won’t go public unless they decide to file a lawsuit. You’d think The Cartel or their minions would have learned their lesson but they "lose the plot" rather easily.

fjtorres August 21, 2015 um 11:58 am

I wonder how the Manhattan Syndicate would react if the AU whining lands them back in court…

Doug August 21, 2015 um 2:28 pm

The problem is, it’s not illegal to have a monopoly in the US, just to abuse the power that having a monopoly gives. If the customer isn’t being harmed, there’s virtually no basis for legal action. And making a case that Amazon is overpricing books and ebooks would seem nearly impossible.

Most of Authors United’s claims are based on monopsony, not monopoly: they’re about abuse of suppliers (publishers, including self-publishers) rather than customers. Monopsony, and even abuse of monopsony power, generally is considered legally acceptable in the US. The basic consideration is whether or not there a significant barrier to new competitors. There’s no obvious barrier to setting up a new online bookstore in competition with Amazon, and in fact a number of competitors already exist, so it’ll be hard to prove that there even is a monopsony in the first place.

I’m sure the DoJ will duly consider the request. And I’m guessing they’ll reject it out-of-hand as not containing any actionable antitrust complaints.

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