The European Commission has announced a formal antitrust investigation into Amazon’s Kindle ebook business and the way Amazon requires publishers to inform it about more favourable terms offered to its competitors.
In a statement the Commission said such clauses “seem to shield Amazon from competition from other e-book distributors” by ensuring it knew about, and had the option to take up, any better terms offered to rivals such as Kobo and Apple’s iBooks.
If confirmed, such behaviour could violate EU antitrust rules which prohibit abuses of a dominant market position and restrictive business practices.
Margrethe Vestager, the EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said: “Amazon has developed a successful business that offers consumers a comprehensive service, including for e-books. Our investigation does not call that into question.
“However, it is my duty to make sure that Amazon’s arrangements with publishers are not harmful to consumers, by preventing other e-book distributors from innovating and competing effectively with Amazon.
“Our investigation will show if such concerns are justified.”
Amazon said it was “confident that our agreements with publishers are legal and in the best interests of readers,” adding that it looked forward “to demonstrating this to the Commission as we cooperate fully during this process.”
The investigation into Amazon follows a US and EU probe into Apple’s ebook business in which the iPad and iPhone maker was accused of fixing prices by encouraging publishers to offer the same terms to all retailers.
A US court ultimately convicted Apple of anti-trust violations, a verdict the firm is appealing against, while publishers agreed to change how they make their titles available.