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Antitrust in the Era of Chokepoint Capitalism: A Conversation with Stacy Mitchell and Cory Doctorow


In the heart of Chicago’s vibrant cultural scene, the ABA Winter Institute 2024 unfolded as a beacon of legal discourse after a three-year hiatus. The event’s significance was palpable, and Allison Hill, the ABA’s CEO, set the stage by highlighting the importance of addressing corporate monopolies and their profound impact on industries like bookselling. Attendees eagerly received a copy of the insightful white paper, “Unfulfilled: Amazon and the American Retail Landscape,” providing a thought-provoking backdrop for the day’s discussions.

Stacy Mitchell: Antitrust and the Decline of Independent Businesses

Stacy Mitchell, co-executive director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, took the stage with a commanding presence, her words resonating with authority and passion. She delved into the realm of antitrust reform, emphasizing the need to reframe the debate and challenge the prevailing narrative. Mitchell stressed the importance of enforcing the Robinson-Patman Act of 1936, a powerful tool to combat price-fixing concerns that have plagued the marketplace. Her insights ignited a spark of hope among attendees, reminding them of the legal mechanisms available to restore balance and fairness.

Cory Doctorow: Chokepoint Capitalism and the Capture of Creative Labor Markets

Cory Doctorow, co-author of the groundbreaking book “Chokepoint Capitalism,” captivated the audience with his incisive analysis of Amazon’s strategies for locking in customers, sellers, and authors. He unveiled the intricate web of prepaid Prime subscriptions, digital rights management, and the exploitation of authors in the e-book and audiobook markets. Doctorow’s critique was both insightful and alarming, shedding light on the hidden mechanisms that perpetuate Amazon’s dominance. While the absence of Danny Caine, author of “How to Resist Amazon and Why,” was deeply felt due to illness, his presence was undoubtedly missed.

Progress of Antitrust Activities and Scrutiny of Big Tech

Mitchell brought forth encouraging news regarding the progress of antitrust activities in the United States. The Biden Administration’s focus on big tech firms has signaled a shift towards addressing the unchecked power of these corporate giants. Mitchell revealed the potential antitrust suit against Amazon being prepared by the Federal Trade Commission, a development that sent ripples of anticipation through the legal community.

Milton Friedman’s Influence on Monopolistic Capitalism

Doctorow delved into the historical roots of monopolistic capitalism, tracing its lineage back to the economic theories of Milton Friedman. He argued that Friedman’s emphasis on consumerism, while seemingly beneficial, undermines the collective nature of creativity and the imperative to support all contributors in the creative process. Doctorow’s analysis provided a deeper understanding of the ideological underpinnings that have shaped the current economic landscape.

Amazon’s Exploitation of Authors and Creators

Doctorow’s critique of Amazon’s treatment of authors, particularly self-published writers in e-books and audiobooks, was both scathing and deeply concerning. He exposed Amazon’s generous return policy, a seemingly customer-centric gesture that, in reality, penalizes creators by withholding revenue and keeping the practice hidden from them. This revelation sparked outrage among attendees, highlighting the predatory nature of Amazon’s business practices.

Financial Discrepancies and Contractual Issues

Doctorow further discussed the financial discrepancies that arise from contracts and unclear relationships with platforms like KDP and Spotify. He mentioned lawsuits filed by creators for missing royalties, often leading to settlements with non-disclosure agreements. These revelations shed light on the systemic issues plaguing the creative industry, where creators are often left vulnerable and exploited.

The Need for Legislative Action

Mitchell and Doctorow emphasized that individual actions alone cannot dismantle the chokepoint capitalism system. They stressed the importance of legislative action to protect citizens’ interests and promote fair competition. Their call for legislative reforms resonated with the audience, underscoring the urgent need for systemic changes to address the exploitative structures and chokepoints that permeate the capitalist system.


The session concluded with a resounding call for legislative reforms to address the exploitative structures and chokepoints in the capitalist system. Mitchell and Doctorow emphasized the need for collective action and citizen-centric policies to ensure a more equitable marketplace for authors, creators, and independent businesses. As the ABA Winter Institute 2024 drew to a close, attendees left with a renewed sense of purpose, armed with the knowledge and inspiration to advocate for change.