Just ten days ago, industry and regulators in Europe feared that the Commission's probe into Amazon had gone dormant.

But while the timing of the probe announced Thursday by Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner for competition, may have been a surprise, the Commission's interest in the topic is certainly not. A series of high-profile bust-ups in recent years over e-book pricing have drawn the attention of regulators. And at the heart of this dispute is a simple question that has big ramifications for the future of digital publishing.

Who should set the price of e-books: the publishers or Amazon?

The European Commission has opened a formal investigation into Amazon's ebook distribution practices.  Initially, the EC's investigation will focus on the largest markets for ebooks in the European Economic Area, namely ebooks in English and German. Amazon remains the largest distributor of ebooks in Europe.

Specifically, the EC said today it intends to investigate certain clauses contained in Amazon's contracts with publishers that it says appear to shield the business from competition by requiring Amazon is given -

  • the right to be informed of more favourable or alternative terms offered to its competitors;

That pesky most-favored nation clause in e-book contracts is rearing its head again, this time in Europe. The European Commission has announced it is opening an anti-trust investigation into Amazon’s practice of requiring notice when e-books sold on Amazon were sold more cheaply somewhere else so that it could price-match them there. EU Commissioner in […]

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Trajectory, Inc. and Chinese online bookseller Dangdang (NYSE: DANG), announced a major partnership agreement. The partnership will allow Trajectory to further expand its leading global eBook distribution network with the addition Dangdang, the billion dollar a year Chinese bookseller who will be presenting Trajectory's English language catalogue of eBooks to its 4.5 million daily unique visitors. 

It's a popular stance among publishers that they and their industry are a gentle sprinkle of special snowflakes and that their software (i.e. ebooks) should be taxed at a lower VAT rate than other software (i.e. websites or any other kind of digital file).

The problem is that defining all digital media as services is exactly what a technology-neutral regulation looks like. All digital content has the same VAT. Nobody has clearly outlined how you can define ebooks as special without discriminating against other digital media


In an unprecedented move, the Culture Ministers of France, Germany, Italy and Poland have jointly called on the European Commission to modify the European Union's law to ensure that ebooks and paper books carry the same value-added tax (VAT) rate.

The latest initiative follows a recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) which states that ebooks are not equal to paper books, and as such the same VAT rate should not apply.

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