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EC raids German publishers in Net book boycott probe

Price fixing under threat

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The European Commission has raided five German publishers, including mighty Bertelsmann, to see if they colluded in a boycott of Internet booksellers.

And it's all Austria's fault. More than 30 German publishers and book wholesalers refused to supply Libro, an Austrian online book retailer, when it started offering from 1 July 20 per cent discounts on books.

On 28 July, Libro said it would stop offering discounted books to German customers, and revealed that Bertelsmann and other publishers would resume supplies if it dropped legal action demanding compensation for loss of sales, according to Bloomberg.

In making this agreement, Libro may have also fallen foul of EC rules against restrictive competition.

In Germany, price setting for books is legal - retailers charge at the price set by publishers and have done so for more than a hundred years (the UK equivalent, the Net Book Agreement, was scrapped some years ago). In 1993, the system was extended to Austria, an EU member since 1995, and Switzerland. However, under EU rules, it is illegal to fix prices in more than one member state. ®

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