Authors call on the US to investigate Amazon's book business

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite circa 2015

Just because Apple is on the hook for allegedly anti-competitive book sales doesn't mean that Amazon is above reproach. As promised, groups representing both authors and booksellers are calling on the US Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for antitrust abuses. The Kindle maker is supposedly using its literary dominance to "impoverish the book industry," hurt writers' careers and even limit free expression. For example, the company is known to squeeze publishers who object to its pricing policies by withholding pre-orders and otherwise depriving these 'enemies' of income. There are also concerns that Amazon wrecks rival stores through unfair price dumping (that is, selling below cost) and refuses to carry some authors based purely on their politics or fame.

For its part, Amazon contends that it cares about books and that low prices are necessary to keep people reading. However, the critics don't buy it. They insist that Amazon is only trying to protect its lead, and that the lower prices are strictly incidental. The industry groups certainly have a vested interest in this complaint -- the publishers' pricing deal with Apple was meant to get Amazon raising prices, after all. However, there's no question that Amazon wields a disproportionately large amount of power. It accounts for more than a third of all paper book sales, and it's responsible for up to 85 percent of some publishers' sales outside of libraries. Some writers and sellers have little choice but to accept Amazon's terms if they want to make a living, and that's bound to create some regulatory concerns.