So, Authors United’s latest publicity stunt is to declare they’re asking the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for anti-trust issues in the wake of the continuing contract dispute with Hachette. (Publishers Weekly talks about it here, linking to a paywalled Financial Times article that you can read free by googling “Authors to call for Amazon antitrust inquiry” then clicking the FT article and answering a question.) They’re still in the process of drafting the letter; Douglas Preston says it was leaked “very prematurely.”
The letter will ask the justice department’s antitrust division to “examine Amazon’s business practices”, Mr Preston wrote in an appeal to authors seen by the Financial Times. The appeal was circulated by the literary agent Andrew Wylie, who has criticised the retailer.
Preston also said that the Justice Department is “expecting this letter and they have told me that they welcome any information we can provide.”
The news started quite a spirited (and generally gleeful) discussion on The Passive Voice, and Nate’s mentioned it on The Digital Reader too. (He also mentions that the UK Publishers Association is likewise calling for an anti-trust investigation of Amazon in the UK.
Let’s be clear on this: the Department of Justice already did look into Amazon, at least as far as its e-book pricing practices went, in the run-up to the Apple/Big Six publishers antitrust trial. The Department of Justice found nothing wrong with Amazon’s pricing policies, and Judge Cote noted this in her decision (and added that even if Amazon had been in the wrong, two wrongs don’t make a right). But the Department of Justice never said much about its investigation beyond that (despite Bob Kohn agitating for Cote to require the DoJ to release its findings in detail).
Some commenters on PV wonder whether this request might backfire and instead draw more attention to Hachette, who was found factually (albeit allowed to settle without admitting guilt) to have conspired in violation of anti-trust law. Frankly, I doubt it—just as I doubt this is going to lead to anything more than a tempest in a teapot and a chance for more publicity for Authors United. (Seriously, “they welcome any information we can provide”? It sounds like he’s quoting from a form letter the DoJ sends to anyone who writes them, crank and concerned alike.)
That being said, I actually kind of would like it if the Department of Justice were to investigate Amazon and announce their findings. I don’t believe Amazon has broken any antitrust laws, and if that is the case, it would be nice to have that stated clearly by an authority rather than buried in court documents nobody reads. If nothing else, it would at least give the people who complain Obama’s DoJ is uninterested in investigating Amazon something else to complain about.
In the end, it’s basically just another story about a bunch of disgruntled authors seeking publicity. (And we’re giving it to them, yay.)