Amazon Accused of Anti-Trust Violations "Tied" to Print-On-Demand Terms

Amazon’s March announcement that POD publishers would be required to use Amazon’s own POD service BookSurge in order to sell books directly on Amazon’s site predictably rubbed quite a few folks the wrong way. (Technically speaking, publishers can use alternative POD providers, but must then provide Amazon with an inventory of at least five books, and the ability to offer many titles for sale without tying up capital in inventory is one of the appeals of a POD model.)

Now comes word that one of those POD publishers, Bangor, Maine-based BookLocker, has filed a class-action lawsuit against Amazon, alleging violations of the "tying" provisions of the Sherman Act — in short, that Amazon has improperly predicated sales on use of printing services. From the complaint (PDF):

For example, on March 26, 2008, Amazon representative John Clifford notified Plaintiff that Amazon would only continue to sell BookLocker’s POD books through the Direct Amazon Sales Channel if Plaintiff agreed to print its books through BookSurge rather than Lightning Source. The Amazon representative further stated that books printed by Lightning Source or any other competing printer would have their “Add to Shopping Cart” buttons removed. (Amazon has also informed POD publishers that they may keep the Direct Amazon Sales Channel active if they agree to enroll in a program known as “Amazon Advantage.” However, the terms and conditions of participating in that program are so onerous so as to preclude it from being an economically viable option for POD book publishers.)

Amazon has continued through the present date to threaten POD publishers that unless they convert their inventory to BookSurge printing, their Direct Amazon Sales Channel will be discontinued.

The acrimony between publishers and Amazon is seemingly growing by the day, and this is hardly a surprising development. But it’s also another sign that Amazon may be drifting toward damaging the very ecosystem it depends on for survival.

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