From The Wall Street Journal:
The Federal Trade Commission and 17 states on Tuesday sued Amazon AMZN -4.35%decrease; red down pointing triangle, alleging the online retailer illegally wields monopoly power that keeps prices artificially high, locks sellers into its platform and harms its rivals.
The FTC’s lawsuit, filed in Seattle federal court, marks a milestone in the Biden administration’s aggressive approach to enforcing antitrust laws and has been anticipated for months.
The agency’s chair, Lina Khan, is a longtime critic of Amazon who wrote in the Yale Law Journal in 2017 that earlier generations of competition cops and courts abandoned the law’s concerns over conglomerates such as Amazon. She has had trouble convincing courts of her antitrust views, however, having earlier lost cases against both Microsoft and Meta Platforms.
The federal agency and the states alleged that Amazon violated antitrust laws by using anti-discounting measures that punished merchants for offering lower prices elsewhere. The government also said sellers on Amazon were compelled to use its logistics service if they want their goods to appear in Amazon Prime, the subscription program whose perks include faster shipping times.
The FTC said sellers feel they must use Amazon’s services such as advertising to be successful on the platform. Between being paid for its logistics program, advertising and other services, “Amazon now takes one of every $2 that a seller makes,” Khan said at a briefing with the media Tuesday.
“The lawsuit filed by the FTC today is wrong on the facts and the law, and we look forward to making that case in court,” said David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel and head of public policy. “The practices the FTC is challenging have helped to spur competition and innovation across the retail industry, and have produced greater selection, lower prices, and faster delivery speeds for Amazon customers and greater opportunity for the many businesses that sell in Amazon’s store.”
The federal agency’s claim that Amazon prevents vendors from offering lower prices on competing websites echoes a claim made in a suit brought last year by the state of California.
“Amazon is now exploiting its monopoly power to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for the tens of millions of American families who shop on its platform and the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on Amazon to reach them,” Khan said in a statement.
The FTC said it is seeking a court order “that would prohibit Amazon from engaging in its unlawful conduct and pry loose Amazon’s monopolistic control to restore competition.” The lawsuit doesn’t say whether the FTC will ask the court to break up the company, and Khan declined in a briefing with reporters to say whether it would.
“The FTC doesn’t have a particularly good history of bringing monopolization cases,” said Rick Rule, who headed the Justice Department’s antitrust division during the Reagan administration. “Most of the last ones that they brought were in the ’60s and ‘70s and lasted into the ‘80s, and there were various theories but they never went anywhere.”
. . . .
Until recently, it has been rare for federal agencies to file monopoly lawsuits seeking to break up companies accused of anticompetitive behavior. While the FTC and Justice Department regularly seek to block what they see as illegal acquisitions, the government doesn’t often move against companies for anticompetitive behavior unrelated to acquisitions.
. . . .
The FTC’s lawsuit alleges that Amazon, despite its reputation for low prices and convenient delivery among many consumers, steadily grew from an online bookseller into a gatekeeper of online commerce that used its size to squash any budding rivals.
The Justice Department, in its lawsuit over Google search, similarly alleged that Alphabet used its scale to thwart competition. In that case, the government said Google used restrictive agreements with Apple and others to be the default search provider. That enhanced Google’s reach while starving other search engines of the data they needed to improve, the DOJ alleges.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal
On a list of the many things PG is not, an antitrust expert or a political analyst would be among the most prominent.
That said, he wonders what the PR issues will be in the Justice Department suit. Amazon has about 230 million customers in the U.S. (out of a total adult population of about 260 million.)
Amazon is unlikely to do anything as a company to stir up the populace, but PG would be surprised if various groups of Amazon customers don’t arise to encourage their elected representatives to criticize the Amazon lawsuit.
Amazon also has 1.1 million sellers in the U.S. Per PG’s quick and dirty online research, KDP has over 1 million authors that publish through the platform. Informed estimates of total royalties paid by KDP to authors in 2022 place the amount as over $500 million.
In a popularity contest, Amazon would crush the Federal Trade Commission and, likely, the entire government of the United States.
Antitrust counsel representing Amazon will take a firm grip on official comments about the lawsuit coming from Amazon and its executives.
However, PG expects the formal and informal web of Amazon sellers will get vocal about this once the word gets around. Ditto for authors who earn most of their royalties from Amazon sales.
Antitrust lawsuits against large, well-known companies in the United States are relatively rare. In 2022, the Justice Department filed only 242 antitrust lawsuits, mostly involving companies/parties even the well-read group of people who visit TPV are unlikely to recognize.
PG is going to follow the progress of this lawsuit from afar and will provide whatever reports he believes would interest visitors to TPV.