Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN)’s E-book Pricing Dispute Escalates with the Authors from German-speaking Countries

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According to a report from The New York Times, more than 1,000 writers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, supported by several hundred artists and readers, have signed an open letter to the online retailer Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), which attacks its trustworthiness and accuses it of manipulating its recommendation lists and lying to customers about the availability of books published by the Swedish-based publisher Bonnier group and the authors who are published under its name. 

“Amazon’s customers have, until now, had the impression that these lists are not manipulated and they could trust Amazon. Apparently that is not the case. Amazon manipulates recommendation lists. Amazon uses authors and their books as a bargaining chip to exact deeper discounts,” the letter stated.

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The letter also accused Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) of taking longer to deliver books published by Bonnier, making false statements about whether the books were available and pulling the authors of those books from recommended reading lists.

The letter has been signed by leading German-language authors like Elfriede Jelinek, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004, and novelists like Ingrid Noll and Nele Neuhaus. Ms. Noll was quoted as saying that Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN)’s actions in this case suggest that the online retailer thinks in purely economic terms, and is neglecting authors’ traditional cultural values, which they have to defend. The letter has also been signed by Gerhard Ruiss, from IG Authors Austrian, who said it is only the beginning in the process of raising readers’ awareness about the issue, according to the New York Times.

Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) is being involved in a similar fight with the publisher Hachette in the United States. Ms. Nina George, a novelist and one of the organizers, said she thought that German authors needed to take similar action after she read the letter from American authors, while emphasizing the neutral approach by the group, which advocates for “a fair book market.”

Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) commented to the authors’ complaint saying that Bonnier’s terms were unfair.

“Bonnier offers most of its titles under conditions that make it significantly more expensive for us to sell a digital version, as compared to a printed edition. E-books can and should be offered cheaper than printed books, and this should also go for the prices at which booksellers buy from publishers,” the company was quoted as saying in an email statement.

The New York Times added that The German Publishers and Booksellers Association submitted a complaint to the German antitrust authority, claiming that Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN)’s monopoly-like position in the e-book market violates competition law, and that The European Commission has opened a preliminary investigation into the complaint. Mr. Skipis,  the president of the association, was quoted as saying that the letter “is about maintaining a book culture that requires a certain protection and cannot be regarded from a purely commercial point of view.”

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