Apple, Amazon subsidiary focus of German antitrust probe

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A German regulator is examining an agreement between Apple and Amazon regarding the sale of audiobooks, adding to the list of European antitrust probes of American companies.

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office is looking into the agreement that allows Apple to buy audiobooks from Amazon’s subsidiary Audible for sale on the iTunes store. The deal has been in place for some time.

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In September, an association of booksellers in the country asked the regulator to investigate the agreement. They argued that the dominance of Apple and Amazon in the audiobook market allows them to place unfair terms on their deals with publishers, Reuters reported.

"Both companies hold a strong position in the market for digital audiobooks in Germany,” said Andreas Mundt, the head of the cartel office, in a statement. “We therefore see ourselves obliged to examine more closely the agreement between these two competitors. The audiobook publishers need to have sufficient alternative channels for the sale of their digital audiobooks.”

The investigation is just the latest of American technology firms in the European Union. The EU’s antitrust regulator is investigating whether Google favors its own comparison shopping services in search results, and is reportedly considering whether to widen its probe.

Google has denied the charges, and says that some competitors' services have grown even as it introduced the features under investigation by regulators.

Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, said last month that the company was pursuing several investigations into the U.S.-based search company, which is now subsidiary to a holding company called Alphabet. But she has also pushed back forcefully against critics who speculate her office is more willing to pursue American companies.

“As I said, the nationality of a company is a nonrelevant fact,” she said in October. “Nonetheless, some claim that when our casework involves giants like Apple or Google, [it] is an evidence of bias. But this is a fallacy.”