How the FTC’s Amazon Case Gerrymanders Relevant Markets and Obscures Competitive Processes
As Greg Werden has noted, the process of defining the relevant market in an antitrust case doesn’t just finger which part of the economy is allegedly affected by the challenged conduct, but it also “identifies the competitive process alleged to be harmed.” Unsurprisingly, plaintiffs in such proceedings (most commonly, antitrust enforcers) often seek to set exceedingly narrow parameters for relevant markets in order to bolster their case. In the extreme, these artificially constrained definitions sketch what can only be called “gerrymandered” markets—obscuring rather than illuminating the competitive processes at issue.
This unfortunate tendency is exemplified in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) recent complaint against Amazon, which describes two relevant markets in which anticompetitive harm has allegedly occurred: (1) the “online superstore market” and (2) the “online marketplace services market.” Because both markets are exceedingly narrow, they grossly inflate Amazon’s apparent market share and minimize the true extent of competition. Moreover, by lumping together wildly different products and wildly different sellers into single “cluster markets,” the FTC misapprehends the nature of competition relating to the challenged conduct.