On 11 June 2015, the European Commission opened a formal anti-trust investigation into Amazon’s e-book distribution arrangements. The investigation focuses on certain clauses in Amazon’s contract with publishers. Under these clauses, the publishers are obliged to inform Amazon about more favourable or alternative terms offered to Amazon’s competitors and/or to offer Amazon similar terms and conditions.
The Commission fears that such clauses may hinder the level playing field and potentially decrease competition between different e-book distributors to the detriment of consumers.
This sector has been hugely successful in the past few years. It is not the first time it has been placed under the Commission’s scrutiny. Indeed, in December 2012 and July 2013, Apple and five international publishing houses (Penguin Random House, Hachette Livres, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Georg von Holtzbrinck Verslagsgruppe) presented to the Commission commitments in relation to retail prices for e-books in the EEA. Amazon will have the opportunity to respond to the Commission’s doubts on the legality of the clauses at stake.