Antitrust enforcement gone wild, eBook edition

The Department of Justice is breaking up a conspiracy. The only problem is that the whole point of this conspiracy is to defeat a monopoly. So the DOJ winds up supporting a monopoly. Nice.
Written by Steven Shaw, Contributor on

If you've been reading along with this blog, you know that I think antitrust enforcement has gone too far. New examples pop up every day, but perhaps none more bizarrely circular than the one that has reentered the news cycle today: the eBook antitrust lawsuit, wherein the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is beating up on book publishers for working together to get some leverage against Amazon.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a proud member of Amazon Prime and the UPS guy is the most frequent visitor to my home. But Amazon is the closest thing to a monopoly that the world of books has ever seen.

Yet, if the reports are to be believed, DOJ uncovered a conspiracy by several book publishers to chip away at Amazon's market dominance. They didn't conspire to set specific prices. They did, at least allegedly, agree over dinner at the excellent New York restaurant Picholine, to use an "agency model," where the publishers can dictate retail prices.

Again, to be clear, the publishers -- HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Macmillan -- conspired to break Amazon's near monopoly in the eBook sector. When you put aside all the technicalities of the antitrust laws, what you get in the end is the government acting as a tool on Amazon's behalf. To its credit, Barnes & Noble is speaking out loudly against the DOJ on this.

Maybe next year the DOJ will try to break up the Amazon monopoly it propped up this year. Anyway, the publishing industry is dying on its own and doesn't need any assistance from the DOJ.

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