On 16 November 2015, the German Federal Cartel Office (the FCO) announced the launch of an investigation into Amazon’s audiobook unit, Audible, and Apple. The FCO is assessing whether a long-term distribution agreement between the companies concerning audiobooks, in particular exclusivity arrangements contained therein, may infringe competition law. The agreement concerns Apple’s procurement of audiobooks from Audible which are further distributed through Apple’s iTunes.
Audible is a leading distributor of audiobooks in Germany whose products can be downloaded on Audible.de as well as Amazon.com. Moreover, Audible is one of the largest producers of audiobooks in Germany and Europe. Apple’s iTunes is one of the largest commercial platforms for digital media worldwide, which includes in its offering ebooks and audiobooks.
The FCO's probe was triggered by a complaint of the German publishers' association, Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, which complained, among other aspects, about Audible’s exclusive distribution through iTunes. The FCO considers both Audible/Amazon and Apple to have a strong market position in Germany. Therefore, the FCO decided to take a closer look at the legality of the distribution arrangement between them, in particular in order to intervene in the event of market foreclosure. The regulator intends to ensure that audiobook publishers have sufficient alternatives for the distribution of digital products.
The FCO is in close contact with the European Commission which has also received the complaint of the German publishers’ association.