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Book Industry Hates Its Biggest Customer, Collectively Calls on DoJ to Investigate Amazon

3645211083_43ed00c6e5_bJudging by the media circus that just came to town, something huge is about to happen in the book world.

The book industry has kicked off a massive coordinated media campaign today. The target?


Lead by Authors United spokesperson David Streitfeld, multiple groups in the book industry have simultaneously decided today to send letters to the US Department of Justice, asking that the Doj investigate Amazon for being a big meanie.

Just about every group is involved. Streitfeld has posted a piece in the NYTimes on behalf of Authors United. The American Bookseller Association has sent a letter, and so has Authors United (you can find both letters on the ABA website).

Yes, Authors United has finally followed through on the promise they made last November to pursue their vengeance against Amazon to the ends of the earth. According to the ABA, Authors United is joined in their effort by the Association of Authors’ Representatives, which has sent a letter. And finally The Authors Guild has added their voice to the chorus (PDF).

Wow. Now that is what I call a circus.

I plan to spend some time over the next couple days parsing the letters sent to the DoJ (I’m also going to watch for legal experts to have a go) but for the purposes of this post I would remind you of two small details.

The first is that Amazon was investigated by the DoJ during the investigation of the Price Fix Six (the Apple ebook price-fixing conspiracy). The Justice Dept did not find anything they could prosecute.

The two letters I’ve read so far mention details and behaviors going back a decade or more, and yet the activities did not lead to prosecutions. Do you really think that some ambitious young lawyer would pass on going after Amazon, when it could make their career?

I don’t.

The second detail is a notable absence.

Where is the Association of American Publishers? Its biggest members hate Amazon as much as anyone, and yet I don’t have any news of the AAP sending a letter to the DoJ (I’m waiting for a response to my query). Why hasn’t the AAP joined the party?

Update: My contact at the AAP was unable to respond to my query. She did not have a prepared statement because the AAP isn’t part of this circus (weird, but true).

Add everything together and it makes me wonder what is really going on here.

If there’s no merit to the letters, then all we have here is a huge noisy spectacle. Surely I’m not the only one to wonder why the spectacle suddenly broke out in the middle of July, why all these groups suddenly decided to send letters all on the same day.

What are they trying to distract us from?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I do plan to start looking. Any time there is this much of a fuss about something, it’s a cover for the real story.

Any guesses what that could be?

image by RCB


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Nate Hoffelder July 13, 2015 um 5:03 pm

One possibility is that they were emboldened by the news last month that the EU was investigating Amazon’s ebook contracts, but that would not explain the size of this coordinated campaign..

AvidReader July 13, 2015 um 5:07 pm

You mean like the NYT – Ted Cruz story where HarperCollins, Amazon and Barnes and Noble can’t find evidence to support NYT’s contention of block book by of Cruz’s book?

Nate Hoffelder July 13, 2015 um 5:18 pm

That’s not a very big story. It’s embarrassing for the NYT, but only very slightly.

Bob Mayer July 13, 2015 um 5:09 pm

And every single Author United author still has their books for sale on Amazon. We hate you but we’ll cash your check.

The lack of integrity is astounding.

Nirmala July 13, 2015 um 6:29 pm

And since almost every ABA member is still boycotting Amazon’s own imprints…. the abundance of hypocrisy is also astounding: Their letter falsely accuses Amazon of "blocking the sale of millions of books by thousands of authors" and of "selling some books and not others."

fjtorres July 13, 2015 um 6:59 pm

Well, it is true that Amazon sells some books (that consumers want) and not others (that consumers don’t want).

Terrence OBrien July 14, 2015 um 2:47 am

And those authors can never forgive Amazon for all those sales.

Edward Renehan July 13, 2015 um 5:10 pm

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." – Albert Einstein

fjtorres July 13, 2015 um 5:10 pm

Amazon’s 20 birthday is Thursday.
As for coordination, well, that is how the Manhattan Syndicate operates, through coordination and coercion.
I wonder if the DOJ will instead investigate the coordination instead of Amazon? 😉

puzzled July 13, 2015 um 5:17 pm

I was going to bring this up…

This is all of two or three days before Amazon’s Big Birthday Bash. Clearly these 'organisations' are trying to glom onto the publicity. Probably hoping that every story about Amazon’s birthday will include a sentence or two concerning the nay-saying.

Nate Hoffelder July 13, 2015 um 5:24 pm

That would explain the timing, but I still wonder what the organizations are looking to gain from this.

fjtorres July 13, 2015 um 5:34 pm

Releasing some bile before it kills them?

Sheer cluelessness?
They’re not exactly well-grounded in reality:

Tim Wilhoit July 13, 2015 um 6:14 pm

Search for "Amazon" on Google. The majority of the hits are for the "Wal-Mart insults Amazon because they charge for Prime, completely unlike Sam’s Club" story. Damn Wal-Mart anyway, how DARE they crap all over Douglas Preston, Esq. and his excellent windmill-tilting story. He would have beat that ol' Bezos if it weren’t for that. 😀

Nate Hoffelder July 13, 2015 um 5:25 pm

I hope so. But I also don’t think that this conspiracy is illegal.

fjtorres July 13, 2015 um 5:40 pm

Not unless they’re being coordinated by the BPHs.
Which might explain why AAP isn’t in on it. Yet.

Still it would be fun to see the DOJ publicly call on them to stop wasting their time.

DaveMich July 13, 2015 um 6:16 pm

The date is today, but it just doesn’t FEEL like today. This post feels like… last year? Or something?

Anne July 13, 2015 um 6:40 pm

Why should I believe anything the ABA says, verify their numbers, etc. when they put junk like this in their letter?-

3. Closed Kindle E-book System: Unlike other e-readers, Kindle e-readers and the Kindle app are configured to allow readers to only read books sold by Amazon and using its proprietary format.

By being so wrong, it calls into question all their points.

Things may have changed since the DOJ did their own audit and I really do hate Amazon’s exclusivity requirements (do they even "need" this?) but I won’t be bothering to parse this myself. I thank you in advance for doing the work.

Smart Debut Author July 13, 2015 um 8:56 pm

Here’s why:

That’s a New York paper, isn’t it…

The facade is starting to slip.

Mackay Bell July 13, 2015 um 10:07 pm

Interesting. Maybe all the stuff we kept hearing about how the big best selling author’s wouldn’t leave the big publishers is starting to fall apart. Maybe some of the big names are considering going indy. And the rest of the NY establishment needs to circle the wagons to make everyone think Amazon is to blame and something will be "done" about it.

Kaye Thomas July 13, 2015 um 9:03 pm

Doesn’t bother me that some folks sent a pointless letter to the Justice Dept. It’s severely aggravating that the NY Times so casually sets aside journalistic integrity in stories about Amazon. Any time someone voices a negative opinion of Amazon it’s a news story, peppered with the reporter’s snarky, sophomoric anti-Amazon observations. The Times' Public Editor published a scolding about coverage of the Hachette dispute, but there was no apology, no correction, and no change of course. If they can’t be bothered to avoid bias in news stories about Amazon, why should we trust them to report objectively about the economy, or the environment, or any other topic of importance?

Smart Debut Author July 14, 2015 um 2:53 am

While we’re speculating about why Snowflakes Entitled, the ABA, the AG , and David Spitefeld are all squeaking up right now, I find it interesting that the AAP’s March 2015 StatShot is overdue and hasn’t been released to the public yet, either.

It’ll be interesting to see if it sheds some light on this latest outburst of tradpub panic.

Authors United and ABA Call For DOJ Investigation of Amazon – TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics July 14, 2015 um 10:03 am

[…] And then read Nate’s article at The Digital Reader. He asks a good question. Why now? […]

Daniel Vian July 14, 2015 um 10:41 am

Passive Guy, after helpful quoting of passages from antitrust law, says it all:

"The real complaint that Authors United, the Author’s Guild, the American Booksellers Association and the Association of Authors’ Representatives have is that Amazon is changing their world."

"PG agrees that Amazon is, in fact, changing the book world. Unfortunately for the complainers, that’s not illegal."

Nate Hoffelder July 14, 2015 um 11:05 am

Yes, that was great.

Round Up: Whatever Authors United is Smoking, I Wish They'd Share | The Digital Reader July 14, 2015 um 1:28 pm

[…] the cabal announced their joint plea yesterday for the US Dept of Justice to investigate Amazon for being a big meanie, I was careful to link to […]

carmen webster buxton July 14, 2015 um 6:13 pm

Well, since US antitrust law looks mostly for companies forcing customers to pay more, not less for things, I don’t think DOJ will be that interested in Amazon.

It sounds to me like the circus lacks a ringmaster.

Nate Hoffelder July 14, 2015 um 6:54 pm

When the time is ready, the ringmaster will make himself known.

Duhn Duhn Duhn

Joking aside, I also don’t see a leader here. Maybe that will sort itself out in phase two?

Speaking of which, I don’t see what phase two will be.

fjtorres July 14, 2015 um 7:46 pm

Phase two is when the actually mail that mishmash of whiney FUD.
(They’re still waiting for volunteers willing to go on readers' not-to-buy lists". I wonder if they’ll hit even 900.)

Phase three is when the DOJ returns it unopened and stamped: "Do you *really* want us to investigate you?"

Amazon Detractors Invited to Debate Its Monopolistic Bookselling on Twitter, But None Show Up | The Digital Reader July 22, 2015 um 7:20 pm

[…] tag, and invited Authors United and its allies (ABA, The Authors Guild, the AAR) to discuss Au's recent announcement that it was sending a letter to the US Dept of Justice. (That letter has been covered and rehashed […]

After Failing to Get Amazon on Antitrust, Douglas Preston Attacks Amazon Anew | The Digital Reader October 18, 2017 um 11:44 am

[…] as the leader of an astroturfing group, Authors United, and then by 2015 had moved on to making a spectacle out of calling for the US DoJ to investigate Amazon for antitrust […]

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