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Antitrust investigation of Amazon called for

Amazon_logo_parodyAmazon just celebrated its 20th birthday with something called Prime Day. The Authors Guild simultaneously announced a call for a Department of Justice investigation of the company. You may remember my letter last August, “Amazon update: when will the Justice Department step in?” I wrote: “I suspect that Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is alert to the possibility of an antitrust investigation. One has to wonder how that figured into his decision to buy the politically influential but money-losing Washington Post. Does a politically sensitive justice department want to begin an investigation into a company controlled by the owner of the newspaper that is on the doorstep of every DC decision maker?”

The Authors Guild and other organizations have been studying the effects of Amazon and analyzing the completely new legal issues raised by an online Goliath with massive reach and no need to compete on a level playing field. It’s the conclusion of the letter to the US Department of Justice , written by Douglas Preston and Barry Lynn in cooperation with the Authors Guild, that provides the call to citizens:

“Over the years, Amazon has benefitted readers and authors in many ways. But no temporary price cut can compensate for the costs to free expression and the health of America’s book industry that have resulted from Amazon’s abuse of its dominance in the world of books. Accordingly, we respectfully request that the Antitrust Division investigate Amazon’s power over the book market, and the ways in which that corporation exercises its power, bearing in mind the very special constitutional sensitivities that have historically been applied to any business that has established effective control of a medium of communication.”

Does this mean I don’t shop at Amazon? I boycotted them for a while, as a seller and as a buyer, but once I capitulated on discount (after holding out for several difficult months), that didn’t seem consistent. I sell a lot of books via Amazon and have to value that arrangement, even while I hate the percentage they demand and the coercive tactics they’ve used. And I am a huge admirer of Amazon technology, their data management, and some of their customer engagement. I am often floored by just how well Amazon works, though we’re certain that they must lose money on most of our orders. Last Sunday afternoon I ordered a $9-box of collar stays and two boxes of washing powder. The items arrived, free of charge in Manhattan, on Monday, in two separate deliveries.

Choosing the products and placing the order took less than five minutes. I was in a rush (those collar stays were going to Beijing) and looking for laundry powder I couldn’t get locally (unscented products are amazingly hard to find in supermarkets). Here are some thoughts on dealing rationally with Amazon:

  • Spread your purchasing – shop at local, and locally owned stores, especially for books
  • Go around Amazon by getting a producer’s name on Amazon and going directly to their website (you can do this for Berkshire Publishing titles – come to us and we’ll match or beat the Amazon price)
  • Encourage Amazon’s competitors to do better – the website is terrible by comparison, and dealing with them as a distributor is fraught with problems, but I really hope they can get their act together and try to buy from them now and then
  • Understand the numbers – Amazon is not competing fairly – and if you happen to be a stockholder, use your influence
  • Write to the Department of Justice (The Hon. William J. Baer, Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division, United States Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20530
  • If you’re an author, join the Authors Guild
Click here to read more at the Authors Guild blog. And let me know what you think!

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