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Spanish Booksellers to Sue Amazon Over Book Prices?

The 71st annual Madrid Book Fair kicked off on Friday and there’s one company on everyone’s mind: Amazon. With book sales down across the country many are blaming the retail giant. There’s even talk, including some coming from the president of CEGAL, the Spanish Booksellers’ Association,of suing Amazon for not respecting Spain’s pricing laws.

La Informacion reported last week that the Spanish book market has seen a frightening decline over the past 3 months. Many booksellers are reporting a steep drop off in sales, with some industry sources estimating that the market is down by as much as 30%.

While the economy is down everywhere, some aren’t blaming the recession. Aaccording to Fernando Valverde, president of CEGAL, it’s all Amazon’s fault. "Amazon is the executioner of the booksellers, and all the Spanish publishing sector," he said. “They don’t respect the fixed price of books and therefore we filed a lawsuit against them,' he added.

Unfortunately for Valverde, Publishing Perspective reports there’s no clear  evidence of Amazon breaking Spanish law. Publishers haven’t reported seeing any chicanery, and when they did a cursory search of Amazon Spanish website it didn’t reveal any obvious sign of skullduggery on the part of Amazon.

Update: Readers are disputing the report that Amazon didn’t break the law by discounting their books. This looks like it could get interesting.

What’s more, this isn’t a mistake that Amazon is likely to have made. Amazon is the type to find ways to bend price fixing laws, not break them. I recall a time a few years back when Amazon was penalized for breaking similar laws in Germany. Only they didn’t, quite. Amazon was caught not underselling the competition but offering free shipping.  Regulators decided that while it didn’t technically break the law, it qualified as offering too much of a discount on the price of a book.

CEGAL is also said to be considering launching their own  e-commerce platform.  There’s hope, given the decline in sales of paper books at brick and mortar bookstores, that it would allow independent booksellers to compete with Amazon. They haven’t released any information yet but it sounds like the new platform will focus on paper books as much as digital.


image by alvy

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Tim May 29, 2012 um 3:33 am

A quick look on the site shows that Amazon offers quite a few books below the price set by the publisher. I’m not familiar with the details about the fixed price rules in Spain so I don’t know whether there are occasions when this is allowed. But I wouldn’t put it past Amazon (or any other online shop) to break the rules as long as the benefit (i.e. acquiring customers, earning revenue) outweighs the risk.

In Germany Amazon did not only bend the fixed-price law but also broke it a few years ago by giving its customers free vouchers, discount codes, etc. that could be used on books. When I signed up at Amazon for example they gave away 5€ vouchers just for signing up (per account created, not per household).

When new online shops or e-commerce sites enter the market in Germany they usually only restrict their promotional discount codes and vouchers to non-book orders after they get a slap on the wrist for breaking the fixed price law.

David May 29, 2012 um 5:20 am

You can offer in Spain up to a 5% discount following the law.

It seems Amazon is going to be sued because an special discount on APril this year. They ofered a 5€ check in any purchase above 20€, which in fact means a 25% discount.

Peter May 29, 2012 um 2:16 pm

Hadn’t checked this before.

Checking Google trends, the search term Kindle EXPLODED in France, Spain, Germany etc. in 2011 when the Kindle Fire came out. This is weird because
1) Kindles had been available and marketed in those countries before, but search interest tracked or lagged US interest.
2) The Kindle Fire is not actually sold internationally.

Perhaps people are purchasing the US version in large numbers, having it shipped and simply rooting it for unencumbered use. This would also bypass local price restrictions since they are technically a US customer.

Not sure if Amazon is legally liable for that.

fjtorres May 29, 2012 um 3:10 pm

Amazon started shipping the basic Kindle 4 to those markets at the same time they introduced the FIRE in the US. In most of those areas it was the first reputable ~99 euro reader; that alone would drive Google searches, no?

Peter May 29, 2012 um 6:29 pm

Perhaps, but wasn’t the Kindle 3 available internationally for 129 euros before that?

Seems like the jump in a country just getting a revamp and a price cut should be a lot less noticeable than the jump in America were we got the revamp, the price cut AND 2 new versions AND the special offer discount AND the lending library AND streaming. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t even close.

But maybe it’s just a market penetration thing. As a brand, Kindle is almost bigger than Amazon in Spain, so it doesn’t take as much to move the needle:,+amazon&ctab=0&geo=es&geor=all&date=all&sort=0

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