Open Markets, Authors United Letter to DoJ Regarding Amazon

“Amazon has used the digital revolution in book publishing to exercise control over the marketplace of ideas in ways that threaten not merely open markets but free speech.”

May 6, 2018  |  by Open Markets

The following is a letter that the Open Markets Program, then at New America, and Authors United, a group representing authors, wrote and sent to the Department of Justice in July of 2015 regarding Amazon’s monopolization of the book market: 

Dear Assistant Attorney General Baer:

We believe that Amazon has gathered unprecedented market power over the world of books, which many experts have asserted make it both a monopoly in its role as a seller of books1 to the public and a monopsony in its role as a buyer of books2 from publishers. We believe Amazon has been misusing that power in many ways, and we seek the benefit of your office to address this situation.

On its current course, Amazon threatens to derail the benefits of a revolution in the way books are created and sold in America. This shift was brought about by two broad innovations. The first is the ebook, the most dramatic new technology in publishing since the invention of the printing press. Because of the low cost of producing and distributing an e-book, many more authors now have the opportunity to self-publish, and millions of people can read books in formats that better fit their pocketbooks and preferences.

The second advance is the e-commerce technology that makes possible on-line bookstores. This technology has connected readers with a vast selection of physical books, including rare, obscure, and out-of-print volumes. E-commerce has also made it far easier for small publishers to reach customers around the world.

Not only do these technological advances benefit our readers, they have revolutionized the way most of us research, write, edit, and publish our own books. Together, they provide the foundation for a renaissance in 21st century intellectual, political, and cultural life.

Yet, as with the coming of the railroad or the telegraph, disruptive new technologies can also become instruments of monopoly, reduced competition, and lost freedom if our laws and regulations fail to prevent the potential concentration of power they make possible. New technologies are neutral; they do not pre-determine any particular economic, social, or political outcome. One set of rules can ensure that a new technology promotes opportunity, competition and diversity in the marketplace. A different set of rules might allow a single firm to wield that same new technology in ways that amass profit, control and power in itself.

Initially, Amazon deployed these new technologies in ways that benefited both readers and authors. While Amazon did not invent the e-book or e-reader, it created a platform that made it easy for millions around the world to access e-books, including readers who live nowhere near a brick and mortar bookstore.

But as Amazon has become a global corporation of unprecedented size, scope, and power, it is increasingly engaging in practices that undermine the interests of readers, authors, publishers, and society as a whole. Amazon has used the digital revolution in book publishing to exercise control over the marketplace of ideas in ways that threaten not merely open markets but free speech. …

The rest of the letter can be read here: Open Markets, Authors’ Guild Amazon Letter

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In America today, wealth and political power are more concentrated than at any point in our country’s history.

The Open Markets Institute, formerly the Open Markets program at New America, was founded to protect liberty and democracy from these extreme -- and growing -- concentrations of private power.

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