Read This! Barnes & Noble's Book Deal Dead

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Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the nationís largest bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble, called off its $600 million plan to acquire the nationís largest book distributor, Ingram Book Group. Wednesdayís company decision follows reports that staffers at the Federal Trade Commission had come down against letting the deal go through. "The proposal had raised concern about vertical dominance," says TIME senior writer Adam Cohen, who follows antitrust issues. Publishers and independent booksellers had feared that the merger would give Barnes & Noble a stranglehold over the distribution of books, to the detriment of less popular titles and the thousands of smaller, independent bookstores around the country.

"These latest developments are yet another manifestation of a more aggressive stance by the Clinton administration on antitrust issues," says Cohen. This activism, which has now been felt in a gamut of industries from high tech to retail, represents a resurgence of antitrust enforcement following years of passivity under presidents Reagan and Bush, whose administrations strongly believed in the marketís ability to take care of itself. "For years," adds TIME business senior editor Bill Saporito, "consolidations were viewed as a healthy phenomenon, capable of cleansing the system of excess capacities." The fear now, says Saporito, "is that companies may be getting too big and wielding too much market and pricing power." Whether the governmentís harder-line view will continue will depend in large measure on the outcome of the next elections. A Democratic administration can be expected to keep up the antitrust beat; a Republican president is likely to apply a lighter touch.