The Wall Street Journal reports (paywalled article; Google the headline to read the whole thing) that Authors United has finally gotten around to sending its letter to the Department of Justice asking that it investigate Amazon for anti-trust issues. It’s taken them long enough; they first started working on it in September, 2014, at the height of the Amazon/Hachette dispute. They haven’t really done much since then except make some noise. I suppose they lost their momentum once Amazon and Hachette came to terms, and had to wait for another scandal to arise before they moved. (Though to be fair, they did start making noise about it again last month, well before the Amazon work environment scare story popped up.)
The WSJ article includes the line, “A Justice Department spokesman said the agency will review the group’s materials.” Passive Guy translates this as “We’ll put the letter in the Nutball file,” which seems a little too pessimistic to me but you never know. The Digital Reader calls attention to the fact that Authors United’s membership has apparently fallen from over a thousand names when it kicked off to only being able to put 575 on the letter that was just sent.
As I’ve reported before, the Department of Justice already did investigate Amazon for predatory pricing during its run-up to charging Apple and the publishers with anti-trust violations. It found that Amazon’s e-book sales were “consistently profitable.” Amazon wasn’t throwing money away to drive competitors into bankruptcy; it was selling some works as below-cost loss leaders to induce consumers into buying more works at over-cost prices.
Of course, I imagine a full anti-trust investigation of Amazon would cover more ground than just checking for predatory pricing, looking into Amazon’s behavior toward its suppliers and so forth. Does the company throw too much of its weight around? Or is it simply a shrewd competitor? Publishers favor the former interpretation, but a lot of customers and independent authors favor the latter.
It’s worth remembering that Authors United leader Douglas Preston originally complained so vociferously about Amazon’s price policies causing its customers to feel “entitled” to low-priced e-books that he actually caused a backlash among his own readers. At least he’s keeping the focus squarely on Amazon this time.