Even before the war of attrition between Amazon and Hachette began, it was not unusual for critics of Amazon to describe the online retailer as a monopoly. But according to a report in the Seattle Times, proving that Amazon is a monopoly, let alone an abusive monopoly, will be very difficult if not impossible.
The piece, by Jay Green, examines the viability of an effort by Authors United to get the Department of Justice to mount an antitrust investigate into Amazon’s business practices.
While Amazon’s critics reflexively call the retailer a monopoly, Green notes that a company which commands overwhelming market share—Amazon is estimated to sell 60% of all e-books, and 40% of all print books—is not necessarily a monopoly. He writes that despite the company's dominance, "proving Amazon is a monopoly, let alone an abusive one, wouldn’t be easy. In legal terms, the word monopoly relates to a company’s ability to control a defined market because of a lack of competition. While there’s not a specific market-share number that defines a monopoly, the threshold is typically quite high."
The Authors United effort to get the DoJ interested in examining Amazon faces another hurdle, Green notes, because antitrust laws are focused on consumers, and not others in the chain, in this case authors. He writes: "The challenge for the authors group isn’t just that the legal bar is high for proving Amazon has a monopoly; it’s that U.S. antitrust law focuses on harm to consumers, not to producers or suppliers. Amazon may well be squeezing publishers to get lower prices. But the damage to publishers, or the authors whose works they publish, isn’t likely to hold much sway with courts, said Eleanor Fox, a New York University Law School antitrust-law professor."
Nevertheless, while a DoJ prosecution of Amazon for antitrust violations seems unlikely, Green emphasizes that a DoJ probe could possibly reveal damaging or at least embarrassing information about Amazon practices and internal discussions. If Authors United can at least get a DoJ investigation, he reports, “all bets are off.”