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Commish snaps on rubber gloves, Amazon readies itself for antitrust probe

Now, let’s have a closer look at those ebook contracts

The European Commish has decided to prod about in Amazon’s contracts with publishers looking for nasty antitrusty behaviour.

The Commission is concerned that the contracts, which force publishers to notify Amazon about more favourable terms and conditions with competitors, may make it more difficult for other ebook distributors to compete with the Kindle King.

The contracts also stipulate that Amazon must be offered terms and conditions at least as good as those offered to its competitors.

In turn, this would reduce choice for consumers and would constitute an abuse of a dominant market position and restrictive business practices. Amazon is currently the largest distributor of ebooks in Europe.

“Amazon has developed a successful business that offers consumers a comprehensive service, including for ebooks. Our investigation does not call that into question," Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said.

"However, it is my duty to make sure that Amazon's arrangements with publishers are not harmful to consumers, by preventing other ebook distributors from innovating and competing effectively with Amazon. Our investigation will show if such concerns are justified," she added.

Initially, the Commission's investigation will focus on ebooks in English and German. There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct.

The duration of an antitrust investigation depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, the extent to which the undertaking concerned cooperates with the Commission, and the exercise of the rights of defence.

“Amazon is confident that our agreements with publishers are legal and in the best interests of readers. We look forward to demonstrating this to the Commission as we cooperate fully during this process,” said a company spokesman.

In 2011, Apple was investigated over similar price fixing charges. That case ended with the fruity firm and five publishers agreeing terms that alleviated the Commission’s concerns. ®

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