Update 3 p.m. PST: We’ve updated the post with a statement from Amazon.
The world’s biggest bookstore is too big for German book publishers.
The German Publishers and Booksellers Association announced today that it filed a complaint last week to the national antitrust authority, asking for an investigation into Amazon’s practices.
The complaint was precipitated by Amazon’s refusal over the last two months to ship books from a major German publishing house, the Bonner Media Group, because of a disagreement over a revenue split from sales of e-books. The association notes that Amazon is the largest Net-based ecommerce platform for books in Germany and has essentially become a kind of card catalog reference for all books.
“This is particularly ironic given that book publishers are, in fact, monopolists,” Forrester media analyst James McQuivey told Venturebeat.
“They have monopoly control over book titles,” he said,”[since] no one else can publish the book titles they own the rights to. And they use this monopoly power to try to pressure Amazon to give them a better cut of profits than they previously had.”
The conflict is also taking place on this side of the Atlantic. In the U.S., Amazon has had a running battle with major publisher Hachette, raising prices on its books, taking weeks to deliver them, and recommending titles by other publishers in their place. Again, the issue is contract terms.
“When Amazon says, ‘No, even though you are a monopolist, we will not bow to your monopoly pressure’,” McQuivey said, “these publishers, whether in the case of Hachette or with the German publishers or many others the company will clash with in the coming months and years, will resort to name calling and threatening legal proceedings.”
According to McQuivey, both sides are “hypocrites.”
“Amazon claims to do everything for the customer but withholds bestsellers from customers in order to scare publishers,” he said.
On the other hand, McQuivey said, “Publishers are some of the biggest beneficiaries of monopoly power, yet they run crying to the press when a company with even more market leverage dares stand toe-to-toe against them.”
Of course, Amazon’s huge distribution of warehouses is not needed for e-books, so why can’t publishers get together and offer their own e-book bookstore?
“Publishers are only prevented from doing the same by their longstanding practices and policies,” McQuivey said.
Late this afternoon, VentureBeat received the following statement from Amazon:
“We are aware of the complaint by the Boersenverein [the German Publishers and Booksellers Association] that alleges that we are delaying shipments to customers – this allegation is not true. We are currently buying less print inventory than we ordinarily do on some titles from the publisher Bonnier. We are shipping orders immediately if we have inventory on hand. For titles with no stock on hand, customers can still place an order at which time we order the inventory from Bonnier — availability on those titles is dependent on how long it takes Bonnier to fill the orders we place. Once the inventory arrives, we ship it to customers promptly.
“We would like to add some context: It’s widely understood that e-books should cost customers less than the corresponding print edition – in digital there is no printing, freight, warehousing, or returns. We believe this should also be reflected in the terms under which booksellers buy their books from publishers, and this is the case in our terms with most publishers around the world, including in Germany. For the vast majority of the books we sell from Bonnier (a division of the 3 billion Euro international media conglomerate, Bonnier Media Group AB), they are asking us to pay them significantly more when we sell a digital edition than when we sell a print edition of the same title.”