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DOJ Asked To Review Book Deal

Sen. Ron Wyden wants the Justice Department to conduct an extensive review of Barnes & Noble Inc.'s plan to purchase the world's largest book distributor.

Wyden, D-Ore., said the planned $600 million purchase of Ingram Book Group of Nashville, Tenn., could give Barnes & Noble an unfair advantage over independent bookstores and discourage Ingram from distributing books that don't have mass appeal.

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"This proposed merger could reduce consumer choice and make a lot of those small independents part of yesteryear," he said Tuesday.

Wyden sent a letter asking Assistant Attorney General Joel I. Klein, head of the antitrust division, to look at the deal's impact on competition and consumer choice.

Justice Department spokeswoman Jennifer Rose said her agency or the Federal Trade Commission often reviews proposed deals, but she couldn't say whether or to what extent the Barnes & Noble acquisition will be examined.

Wyden said concerns from independent booksellers in his state prompted him to send the letter.

Michael Powell, owner of Powell's Books in Portland, said Ingram has data on his sales, volume, and ordering habits because he's an Ingram customer. He worries that Barnes & Noble could use that information for an unfair advantage.

"This is about losing our business," Powell said. "This is coming close to giving Barnes & Noble a monopoly."

But Alan Kahn, chief operating officer for Barnes & Noble, said his company "would have no use for that information and it wouldn't help us one iota."

He said Ingram wouldn't hand over the proprietary information even if Barnes & Noble wanted it. "Some independent book sellers are on a crusade to make this acquisition look bad," Kahn said.

The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, raised anticompetitive questions after the deal was announced earlier this month.

The ABA also filed an antitrust lawsuit against Barnes & Noble and Borders in San Francisco last March. Kahn called that suit baseles.

Under the proposed acquisition, Barnes & Noble will give Ingram $200 million in cash and $400 million in stock for the book distribution unit.

Barnes & Noble officials have said the acquisition would allow Ingram to distribute a wider selection of titles and allow Barnes & Noble to deliver books faster and more cost-effectively. The deal could be completed by early next year.

Barnes & Noble, based in New York, operates 504 Barnes & Noble bookstores and 507 B. Dalton bookstores. Barnes & Noble plans to use Ingram Book Group to help accelerate growth of its online bookseller, barnesandnoble.com.

Ingram Book Group, a subsidiary of privately held Ingram Industries Inc., distributes trade books, audio tapes, textbooks, and specialty magazines through 11 distribution centers around the nation. It ships some 115 million titles every year.

Written By John Hughes, Associated Press Writer

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