Leading authors call for government probe of Amazon’s ‘damaging’ power
Authors including Malcolm Gladwell, Ursula Le Guin, Michael Chabon and Ann Patchett are putting their names to a letter attacking Amazon’s “abuse of its dominance in the world of books” and calling on the US justice department to investigate the retailer’s “power over the book market”.
The letter, which is due to be submitted to the department later this month , is the latest initiative from the group of powerful authors calling themselves Authors United, which was set up in the wake of the dispute over terms between the internet shopping site and Hachette last year . Douglas Preston, who founded the group, said that signatories were “pouring in” for the letter this week, with “many hundreds” putting their name to the letter, including Sara Paretsky, Francis Fukuyama, Elizabeth George, Michael Lewis, Richard North Patterson, Luc Sante, Stuart Woods and Daniel Handler.
“We are authors with a deep collective experience in this field, and we agree with the authorities in economics and law who have asserted that Amazon’s dominant position makes it a monopoly as a seller of books and a monopsony as a buyer of books,” runs the letter, going on to claim that “in recent years, Amazon has used its dominance in ways that we believe harm the interests of America’s readers, impoverish the book industry as a whole, damage the careers of (and generate fear among) many authors, and impede the free flow of ideas in our society”.
The authors are calling for the justice department’s antitrust division to investigate Amazon, suggesting that the online retailer “has blocked and curtailed the sale of millions of books by thousands of authors” in order to pressure publishers, and has “extract[ed] an ever greater share of the total price of a book from publishers”, resulting in “publishers dropping some midlist authors and not publishing certain riskier books, effectively silencing many voices”.
The letter is backed by missives from the Authors Guild and the American Booksellers Association, the New York Times reported. “As with our author colleagues, we are concerned that the mega-book-retailer Amazon.com has achieved such considerable market power with such questionable business tactics that it is undermining the ecosystem of the entire book industry in a way that will be detrimental, especially to midlist authors, new authors, and minority voices,” wrote both the president and the chief executive of the ABA in a letter to the justice department printed by the paper .
This latest salvo comes after a series of long-running battles between the internet giant and the world’s biggest publishing conglomerates, with the retailer accused of delaying delivery for high-profile titles . As negotiations over ebook sales between Amazon and Hachette turned into a public war of words , authors stepped into the ring , publishing rival petitions in support of both sides. The Hachette dispute was resolved last November , with the retailer suggesting the deal would be a “great win for readers and writers alike” and the publisher claiming it would “benefit Hachette authors for years to come”.
Preston told the Guardian that Authors United, whose actions during the stand-off included funding an ad in the New York Times asking Amazon “to stop harming the livelihood of the authors”, had waited until now to put its letter together “because, first, we wanted to take our time with the research (which is hard to do because Amazon is a very secretive company) and also to give a little breathing room after the dispute was settled”.
“We wanted to wait for tempers to cool and not charge back on the field of battle, giving the impression were disgruntled authors still angry over the way Amazon treated us. The truth is, Amazon’s heavy control and aggressive dominance of the publishing world is a much larger issue than the Hachette dispute,” said the novelist.
Amazon, which last month saw the EU launch an inquiry into its dominance of the ebook market , did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday morning.
For the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors , Orna Ross, the Authors United letter ignores Amazon’s leading role in the development of self-publishing.
“Monopolies are never good for any business,” she said. “We encourage our members to publish in as many formats as possible, on as many platforms as possible. Having said that, I don’t believe the situation as described by the Authors Guild is that experienced by all authors. Many of the concerns that are expressed in the letter around freedom of expression are actually solved by self-publishing.”
Amazon’s introduction of Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has allowed many authors “to reach their audience and allowed others to build successful businesses, new genres and wide global readerships,” she continued.
“The Authors Guild doesn’t seem to understand how self-publishing works. Some of the figures it is quoting are inaccurate and KDP’s restrictions on pricing are actually designed to avoid a race to the bottom, not the opposite as implied.”
“Amazon is a business, doing what businesses do,” she said. “We might deplore that but we can’t have it both ways. Authors associations should speak out on behalf of authors and readers, not publishers.”
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