German book association demands investigation into Amazon’s publisher negotiations

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Hachette isn’t the only big publisher that Amazon is playing hardball with — across the Atlantic, the retailer is also engaged in contract negotiations with media group Bonnier over its German business. Amazon has allegedly been delaying Bonnier book shipments in Germany, and it’s believed that the company is seeking larger discounts (for itself, not for readers) on ebooks from Bonnier publishers. On Tuesday, the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein) announced that it filed a complaint against Amazon with the Federal Cartel Office, asking it to investigate.

“Amazon is putting significant, coercion-like pressure on Bonnier to get the publisher to concede unjustified advantages during its ongoing negotiations,” the Association says in its 22-page complaint.* It pegs Amazon’s share of the print and ebook market at around 70 percent.

The Association notes that so far, Amazon is limiting its shipment delays to older Bonnier titles, rather than “new releases and bestsellers,” but that Amazon may be saving that step “as increased leverage for the negotiations.” The complaint cites media reports that claim Amazon’s main demand is a larger commission on ebook sales — 40 or 50 percent of an ebook’s retail price, rather than the 30 percent it receives today.

The complaint also says Amazon’s influence extends far beyond book sales, implying that if a book can’t be found on Amazon, customers may assume it doesn’t exist: “Consumers use Amazon increasingly” as a “kind of inventory catalog” to “quickly inform [them] about what books are available on specific topics. If an author or even a book by this author is not available on Amazon, the reader assumes that there are no (new) books by this author.”

On Tuesday evening, Amazon denied that it’s delaying Bonnier shipments, saying that it is actually holding fewer titles in stock. It also confirmed that it’s seeking a larger commission on Bonnier ebook sales.

Stateside, meanwhile, it appears that Amazon is close to settling its contract dispute with Warner Bros.: Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal both reported Monday that Amazon is making Warner Bros. DVDs available for pre-order again.

*The quotations in this article were translated with the help of either Google Translate or our resident German speaker Janko.

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