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Open Markets, the Authors Guild, and American Booksellers Urge FTC and DOJ to Investigate Amazon’s Book Retail Monopoly

With the FTC reportedly poised to file an antitrust suit against Amazon, the groups urge the regulators to keep their focus on threats to democracy, such as Amazon’s dominance of the US market for books.

August 16, 2023, WASHINGTON, DC — The Open Markets Institute, the Authors Guild, and the American Booksellers Association have sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) urging these agencies to focus on how Amazon abuses its monopoly power over the market for books and ideas, as regulators appear on the verge of bringing a major suit against Amazon. 

“The open access to the free flow of ideas is essential to a well-functioning democracy. The government has the responsibility to ensure that actors with oversized power cannot control or interfere with the open exchange of ideas,” reads the groups’ letter to regulators. “Today the free exchange of ideas is impeded and warped by opaque algorithms and sales practices controlled by Amazon and premised on which publisher and/or author is willing and able to pay the highest extortionary tax to get their books promoted on Amazon’s website.” 

“The ultimate effects of Amazon’s business model—which is based on manipulating readers—include the unfair promotion and suppression of specific ideas, authors, publishers, and the routine disruption of public debate,” the letter continues. “We need nothing more than common sense to understand that the sort of personalized recommendations that readers welcome in the local independent store will have vast structural effects on the overall market of ideas when pursued by an all-powerful, all-seeing monopolist.” 

  • The Open Markets Institute, often with partners that fight for authors, like the Authors Guild, has for years warned of how Amazon endangers the free flow ideas through its dominance over America’s books market:  
  • In 2023, the American Booksellers Association sent to the FTC its recently released white paper, The Stepping Stone to Monopoly, which provides a comprehensive look at Amazon’s anticompetitive behavior in the bookselling and publishing markets, and how the online giant used this as a blueprint to dominating other markets.
  • In November 2022, the American Booksellers Association met with the Federal Trade Commission to discuss Amazon’s anticompetitive behavior in the book industry.
  • In 2022, ABA commissioned Civic Economics, an economic analysis and strategic planning consultancy, to do a study of how Amazon affects small businesses and communities across the nation. The result is a damning report entitled Unfulfilled: Amazon and the American Retail Landscape.
  • In 2021, ABA released a white paper detailing the scale and scope of Amazon’s anti-competitive behavior: American Monopoly: Amazon’s Anti-Competitive Behavior Is in Violation of Antitrust Laws. The white paper was sent to the FTC in late 2021, as well as the attorneys general in all 50 states. In 2022, this white paper prompted a meeting between ABA and 45 attorney general offices. 
  • In 2021, Open Markets and the Authors Guild urged regulators at the DOJ to block the takeover of the publisher Simon & Schuster by the conglomerate Bertelsmann, which already owns Penguin-Random House, the largest publisher in the US. (The government successfully blocked that deal late last year). 
  • In 2015, Open Markets, Authors United and the ABA jointly called on the DOJ and the FTC to investigate Amazon for antitrust violations. “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 groups wrote. 

Read the letter here (PDF).