Apple and Amazon have ended an exclusivity agreement that required Apple to only sell audiobooks from Amazon subsidiary Audible, the European Commission announced today.
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European regulators hailed the decision as a positive step toward making the ebook market more competitive, and the German antitrust agency Bundeskartellamt said it will drop an investigation into the two companies' sales practices.
The agreement ended Jan. 5, according to the European Commission, and Apple is now free to source audiobooks from companies other than Audible, while Audible can offer its books for sale beyond Apple's iBooks store.
"The exclusivity agreement affected the sales opportunities of audiobook publishers since apart from Audible there were few alternative purchasers available, especially in the area of digital audiobooks," Bundeskartellamt President Andreas Mundt said in a statement.
Neither Audible nor Apple immediately responded to a request for comment.
Although the exclusivity agreement applied worldwide and took effect in 2003, it was not until November 2015 that antitrust regulators began investigating it, following a complaint from the German Publishers and Booksellers Association.
Audible, which was founded in 1995 and acquired by Amazon in 2008, is one of the largest online audiobook sellers. Its customers downloaded more than two billion hours worth of audiobooks last year, according to the company's website. In September, it added a rotating selection of more than 50 audiobooks to the list of Amazon Prime benefits.
Apple's bookselling deals have come under antitrust scrutiny before, including a $400 million settlement with the Department of Justice stemming from a 2012 lawsuit over price-fixing. Consumers who bought ebooks involved in that case received payouts last summer worth up to $6.93 for each book.