Amazon’s E-Book Selling Business Under Investigation in Europe

Visitors browsing e-books at a book fair in Frankfurt in 2010. The E.U. is looking into whether Amazon used its dominant position in the region’s e-books market to favor its own products. (Credit Daniel Roland/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
Visitors browsing e-books at a book fair in Frankfurt in 2010. The E.U. is looking into whether Amazon used its dominant position in the region’s e-books market to favor its own products. (Credit Daniel Roland/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

European regulators announced an antitrust investigation on Thursday into whether Amazon used its dominant position in the region’s e-books market to favor its own products over those of rivals.

The European Commission said it was evaluating the legality of clauses that Amazon had used with European publishers, which required them to inform the e-commerce giant of more favorable terms for books that were offered to other digital retailers.

The announcement is the latest hurdle facing United States technology companies in Europe. European policy makers in recent years have pursued a series of tax, antitrust and other investigations into the businesses of Apple, Google and Facebook.

Amazon, the region’s largest e-commerce company, has also drawn scrutiny. The company’s complex tax practices in Luxembourg, home to its European headquarters, are the subject of a separate investigation by the European authorities. The commission, which is the executive arm of the European Union, is also pursuing an antitrust investigation into whether large tech companies have impeded competition in the region’s online shopping industry.

The European authorities said the clauses being evaluated in the e-books investigation might have hampered competition in that market by making it more difficult for Amazon’s rivals to offer lower prices.

Antitrust officials added, however, that the opening of the investigation did not indicate that Amazon had broken the region’s competition laws.

“Amazon has developed a successful business that offers consumers a comprehensive service,” Europe’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, said on Thursday in a statement. “It is my duty to make sure that Amazon’s arrangements with publishers are not harmful to consumers, by preventing other e-book distributors from innovating and competing effectively with Amazon.”

In a statement, Amazon said it was “confident that our agreements with publishers are legal and in the best interests of readers.” The company said it would “cooperate fully during this process.”

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SOURCE: MARK SCOTT and DAVID STREITFELD
The New York Times

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