US booksellers and authors urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Amazon’s alleged monopolistic grip over the industry on Wednesday — even as the e-commerce giant already faces a looming US antitrust lawsuit.
Amazon critics who signed the letter included the American Booksellers Association, the Authors Guild and the antitrust nonprofit Open Markets Institute.
They argued the FTC should probe how “Amazon used and continues to use unfair methods of competition” to gain a stranglehold on book sales and wield undue influence over which titles are promoted or demoted.
The damning letter emerged even as Amazon brass was reportedly set to meet with FTC officials for a so-called “last rites” meeting, Politico reported — a move widely considered the last final step before a formal federal antitrust action targeting its massive online retail operation.
“Amazon has an oversized power to control what readers see when browsing for books. Only Amazon understands how its algorithm works,” said the letter, which was addressed to Lina Khan, the embattled FTC chair and noted antitrust crusader, and Jonathan Kanter, the Justice Department’s antitrust chief.
In a section labeled “ongoing harms,” the groups highlight Amazon’s sales dominance within the US publishing industry.
The e-commerce giant purportedly sells more than 50% of all physical books in the retail marketplace, as well as 90% of physical books that are sold online and more than 80% of e-books.
The groups made several accusations about Amazon’s allegedly anticompetitive actions, including “strong-arm tactics to force traditional publishers to agree to onerous contract terms and conditions” and self-preferential treatment for book listings and pricing.
“Amazon effectively uses the same model that the railroads used in the 19th century — i.e., if you want to get your product to market, you pay the tax and play by their rules,” the letter said. “It has the power to act in this manner because it completely dominates almost every aspect of the book market.”
Meanwhile, the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores in the US has plunged from about 12,000 in 1998 to “little more than 6,000” in 2019, the letter said, citing data from Statista.
The Post has reached out to Amazon for comment on the letter.
The scope of a potential FTC or DOJ lawsuit targeting Amazon’s business, including whether it would scrutinize its bookselling business, remains unclear.
In late June, Bloomberg reported that the FTC was prepping a “far-reaching antitrust suit focused on Amazon’s core online marketplace.”
The agency reportedly plans to argue that Amazon improperly pressures sellers into using its logistics hub.
As The Post reported in June, Amazon has geared up for the looming legal battle by hiring a number of ex-FTC officials to aid its defense.
Over the last several years, Amazon has faced criticism from lawmakers over its alleged promotion of its own product listings at the expense of third-party vendors active on its marketplace.
Amazon has denied wrongdoing and publicly lobbied against proposed legislation targeting Big Tech firms, such as the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would block companies from boosting their own products and services in search results.
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