Amazon’s Bid For The Book Depository: User Backlash And Regulatory Inquiry

Yesterday’s news that Amazon would be gobbling up UK-based online bookseller The Book Depository is not a done and dusted deal just yet. Today, the Office of Fair Trading announced that it would be soliciting public comments related to the merger, as part of its evaluation of the deal. The news comes a day after many users have voiced their dismay over the deal on sites like Twitter.

To be clear, although there have been a fair amount of negative comments on Twitter and elsewhere over the deal — specifically among people who are worried about how it will impact pricing, stocks and other existing aspects of The Book Depository — the OFT says the notice is not in response to any of that.

“This is a standard merger inquiry that we opened today,” OFT spokesperson Frank Shepherd told paidContent. The short “invitation to comment” notice invites interested parties to make submissions to the OFT about “any concerns they may have related to competition or public interest issues,” he says.

The OFT will keep its invitation open until July 18, and it says it expects to have evaluated the evidence and made its decision by August 30. At that point, if the OFT believes there may be a realistic prospect of a “substantial lessening of competition”, it will either go back to Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) to make some concessions to re-evaluate, or refer the inquiry on to the Competition Commission. If the Competition Commission agrees with the OFT, it could end up blocking the sale or putting restrictions on the deal itself.

The OFT, could, of course, also decide that the case does not qualify for an investigation, or simply clear it.

The Book Depository has made a name for itself as a purveyor of “long tail” printed books and also e-books, offering lesser-known titles and even republishing itself some that have gone out of print. It has a 101-country footprint (it added Macedonia just today), to which it offers free shipping on all its titles.

Given how small it is compared to Amazon — it’s expected to have £120 million (less than $200 million) in turnover this year — consumers have been worrying (in an informal, Twitter kind of way) that the deal with Amazon could impact the company’s business model as it stands today — although the only comment that The Book Depository has made so far on the deal is to say that it will remain independent post-sale.

Amazon has not responded yet to requests for comment.

For those interested in giving feedback to the OFT on the deal, you can find the relevant details here.