Small bookshops sue the big boys

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The Independent Online
ESCALATING a long-running feud with big, multiple-chain bookstores, America's small bookshops are taking the big boys - Barnes & Noble and Borders - to court, accusing them of unfair and illegal trading practices.

The American Booksellers' Association, which represents 3,500 small shops and 26 independent bookstores, have instituted joint proceedings in California, under both state and federal law. The ABA says it has evidence to show the big chains used their sales clout to extract favourable terms from publishers, including heavy discounts and sales priority. Such deals would be against US anti-trust laws which are designed to keep competition open.

A series of lawsuits brought by the ABA against publishers in the past decade resulted in voluntary agreements with six major publishers and a recent $25m (pounds 15m) settlement from Penguin Putnam for breaking the agreement. But a 17-year investigation of publishers by the US Federal Trade Commission ended in 1996 without determining whether fair competition provisions were being breached.

Avin Domnitz, executive director of the ABA, said: "We have to ask whether America is to be a cultural free market place of ideas, or concentrated in the hands of very few. The independents represent diversity."

Barnes & Noble, which opened 65 new shops last year, said in a statement that they followed "accepted industry practices" but would not comment further.