The time to submit comments to the DoJ about the proposed price-fixing settlement has ended, and the Authors Guild filed its own comments on Monday. Publishers Weekly has a post containing the full text of the rather lengthy open letter from Executive Director Paul Aiken, as well as some commentary.
There’s not a whole lot that’s new in the Authors Guild’s position from the various editorials of theirs we’ve covered over the last few months, but it does go into a considerable amount of detail as to what they see as Amazon’s domination of many areas of the publishing marketplace: predatory pricing on frontlist e-book titles, removal of buy buttons during print-on-demand or publishing contract negotiation disputes, convincing Overdrive to redirect public library patrons to Amazon’s servers for e-book checkout, acquiring exclusive publishing rights to a number of popular literary franchises, and giving away e-books for free (even without the publisher’s permission) to Amazon Prime subscribers.
Amazon’s tactic of selective predatory pricing of frontlist e-books was far more anti-competitive than the Justice Department has acknowledged. It effectively cut brick-and-mortar retailers – logical participants in a bricks-and-clicks, showroom approach to marketing e-books – out of the game. The retailers would need a partner willing to invest substantial amounts to develop and market an e-reader, e-commerce site, and accompanying software. What partner would dare invest, with Amazon plainly willing to earn little or nothing from e-books? (Google’s commitment to independent bookstores always seemed half-hearted, and now it’s backing out.) From Amazon’s perspective, the best competitor is one that never dares enter the field.
He exhorts the Justice Department to find a way of addressing the collusion that does not give Amazon free license to continue its destructive behavior.
I must admit, I’m curious now what the Department of Justice will do after having received so many comments, many of which complain that Amazon is the real villain of the piece. Will it say, “Thanks for letting us know how you feel,” and then continue as it was anyway? Or might the terms of the settlement be amended to be less amenable to Amazon? It’s kind of hard to see how the DoJ could allow the publishers to continue using agency pricing given that their implementing it all at once was the whole thing the DoJ didn’t like to begin with. Part of the point of a remedy is to undue the perceived harm that’s been done, after all.
I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.