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Amazon targeted with European antitrust investigation over ebooks

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The European Commission has opened a formal antitrust investigation into Amazon’s ebooks distribution agreements. At the heart of the investigation are clauses included in Amazon’s contracts with publishers, and the European Commission says it’s concerned that publishers are forced to inform Amazon about their agreements with competitors. "The Commission has concerns that such clauses may make it more difficult for other ebook distributors to compete with Amazon by developing new and innovative products and services," reads a statement from the European Commission.

Investigation will focus on Amazon's publisher agreements

EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager says: "Amazon has developed a successful business that offers consumers a comprehensive service, including for ebooks. 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 ebook distributors from innovating and competing effectively with Amazon. Our investigation will show if such concerns are justified."

Amazon has been engrossed in a bitter dispute with French publisher Hachette recently, and Europe has been following along closely. Former EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia revealed that the Commission was looking into a disagreement between the two companies over the pricing of ebooks. Amazon and Hachette finally resolved their dispute in November, but Amazon had been pushing for a bigger cut of ebook revenues and attempting to keep Hachette ebooks priced at $9.99 and below. The European Commission previously investigated Apple and four major book publishers (including Hachette) back in 2012, and forced the companies to terminate their existing agreement for selling ebooks at higher prices.