Amazon.com, which has an estimated 70 percent of the online book market in Britain, got closer this week to controlling the rest of it when the Irish Competition Authority approved its pending purchase of a major rival, the Book Depository. But the blessing of the main regulatory body, the Office of Fair Trading, is no sure thing in a country that appears to be more concerned about media monopoly in the wake of the News Corporation hacking scandal.
Organizations of publishers, authors and booksellers have all come out against the deal, whose price was undisclosed but was probably less than $200 million, pocket change for Amazon.
The Book Depository, which focuses on traditionally bound books rather than anything electronic, sometimes seems as if it were designed to be the anti-Amazon: its Web site is ugly and hard to navigate, whatever book I want is always out of stock, the packaging is inadequate and complaints donât yield much more than a shrug. But the site has one great virtue that prompts me and many others in 100 countries around the world to use it to buy books published in Britain; shipping is free. So an obscure but excellent book by the late travel writer and bon vivant Patrick Leigh Fermor, “Words of Mercury,” costs $11.71 from the Book Depository. If ordered from the United States, from Amazon.co.uk, it would be $20.80.
The Book Depository is trying to quiet any uproar by saying it will continue to operate independently. Otherwise it, like Amazon, is saying little. The Office of Fair Trading declined to comment but is expected to render by the end of August a decision about whether the deal is anticompetitive.