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German antitrust office investigating Amazon and Apple audiobook agreement

After complaints from booksellers, Germany's Federal Cartel Office is investigating the relationship between the Amazon-owned audiobook service Audible and Apple. The office will examine whether Audible's agreement to supply Apple with audiobooks — along with the companies' market dominance — is constricting the opportunities for smaller audiobook publishers.

"Both companies hold a strong position in the market for digital audiobooks in Germany," says Federal Cartel Office president Andreas Mundt in a statement. "We therefore see ourselves obliged to examine more closely the agreement between these two competitors. The audiobook publishers need to have sufficient alternative channels for the sale of their digital audiobooks."

The German Publishers and Booksellers Association filed a complaint with the German government and European Commission in September, alleging that Apple and Amazon were leveraging near-monopolistic power to make publishers accept "unreasonable" demands for audiobook marketing. Specifically, they singled out an exclusive agreement between the two companies, under which Audible provides audiobooks through Apple's iTunes Store. Mundt says that the Federal Cartel Office is "in close contact with the European Commission" over the issue.

Apple and Amazon are best known as rivals in the publishing market — Apple and several publishing houses settled with the European Commission three years ago after allegedly fixing prices to compete with Amazon. More recently, the European Commission began an investigation into whether Amazon's ebook distribution agreements violate antitrust laws.