1,100 German Authors Take Aim at Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com

More than 1,100 German authors have signed their names to an open letter to Amazon.com, criticizing Amazon's negotiating stance with German book publisher Bonnier Group, which includes a number of imprints including Aladin, Berlin Verlag, Carlsen, audiobook imprint Hamburg, Piper and Ullstein).

The New York Times reports that the authors wrote the letter after seeing the missive from American authors to Amazon, which was organized by Douglas Preston. That letter took Amazon to task for its negotiating stance with Hachette and for delaying delivery of Hachette titles while the corporations negotiate a new retail contract.

The German authors, which include a Nobel Prize for Literature winner, make all the same allegations as the American authors did: accusing Amazon of all kinds of chicanery. The authors do recognize that not all authors agree with them or with Bonnier about what the price of ebooks should be. They, like the American authors, ask readers to email the head of Amazon Germany to complain. You can read the letter here. It's in German, but Google will translate it so you can get the gist of it. We're sure it sounds better in the original German.

What makes the German dispute different from the American one is the different attitudes towards competition and retail pricing. Americans are used to sales and discounts in almost all retail venues, from Black Friday bargains to markdowns on clothing at the end of every season. In France, the law prohibits the sale of books at less than 5% below the cover price. But that law, which was passed in 1981, does not apply to ebooks.

In 2002, Germany passed a law which formally adopted the long-held tradition of fixed-price agreements between book publishers and bookstores. The agreements have been around since the late 19th century. If a party breaches the agreement a court can enforce the contract and levy huge fines. This system is in direct conflict with U.S. antitrust laws (and the European Union's for that matter).

Price fixing is a big no-no in the U.S. In Germany, it's the law. The goal is to protect small and independent publishers and bookstores. But globalization and the Great Recession have thrown a huge monkey wrench into this system. Most consumers just want cheaper books.

Michael Naumann wrote a very interesting article for The Nation about pricing and how the bookselling business in Germany is unique. Small booksellers are flourishing and one must do a rigorous apprenticeship to become a bookseller, which is a very prestigious occupation.

We shall see if Amazon Germany decides to respond an provide readers with the direct email of the CEO of Bonnier Group.

Posted on August 18, 2014

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