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Justice Department Presents Opening Arguments Against Apple in E-Book Price Fixing Trial

In a Manhattan courtroom this morning, the U.S. Department of Justice presented its opening arguments in USA v Apple Inc, the antitrust e-book price fixing trial. The DoJ filed suit last April and Apple has consistently defended itself and has said the accusations are "simply not true".

According to AllThingsD, Justice Department attorney Lawrence Buterman presented the government's case this morning, using a slideshow filled with email and phone record evidence that the government says shows Apple colluded with book publishers to drive up the cost of e-books ahead of the launch of the iBookstore.



For its part, Apple's lead attorney claims the company was using the same strategies that worked when the company was building the iTunes Music Store to get contracts with the major book publishers. From Apple 2.0:
Apple's opening statement […] tried to pull the rug out from under everything the DOJ had just presented. [Apple SVP Eddy] Cue, Snyder claims, was just trying to break into a crowded e-book market (one dominated by Amazon) using precisely the same approach he used when he got the company into the music market with iTunes and the applications market with the App Store. Those innovation poured billions of dollars into the U.S. economy, he said. "Apple should be applauded, not condemned."
Eddy Cue -- Apple's senior vice president for Internet Software and Services, and one of its chief negotiators -- sits squarely at the middle of the DoJ's case and was responsible for much of the email and phone traffic mentioned in the government's opening argument. He is expected to take the stand on June 13th.

The Department of Justice has settled with all of the book publishers initially accused, while Apple remains the main target of the suit.

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16 months ago
Rating: 17 Votes
16 months ago

We should know now that price fixing is only ok when Amazon is doing it in order to run competitors out of business.


Except that isn't what Amazon is doing. Amazon is selling at low/no/negative profit margins, they're hoping to make it up in volume. That isn't price fixing, the publishers still get the wholesale price of their books, Amazon sets the retail price, which is many cases is below what they bought them for from the publishers.

Now I'm not saying that what Amazon is doing is great for competitors, but it isn't illegal unlike what the publishers and Apple are accused of doing.

Amazon could be accused of abuse of monopoly power in the market hurting their competitors, but that isn't what this case is about.

For this case and this case only Amazon didn't do anything *legally* wrong, Apple probably did.
Rating: 12 Votes
16 months ago

Except that isn't what Amazon is doing. Amazon is selling at low/no/negative profit margins, they're hoping to make it up in volume. That isn't price fixing, the publishers still get the wholesale price of their books, Amazon sets the retail price, which is many cases is below what they bought them for from the publishers.

Now I'm not saying that what Amazon is doing is great for competitors, but it isn't illegal unlike what the publishers and Apple are accused of doing.

Amazon could be accused of abuse of monopoly power in the market hurting their competitors, but that isn't what this case is about.

For this case and this case only Amazon didn't do anything *legally* wrong, Apple probably did.


Amazon loses money on ebooks... This is why big corporations win, they can play chicken longer...

Amazon buys books at 10 dollars sells a 9,99 (they lose 1 cent), how can they make ANY profit from volume sales ?
They don't and since not that many companies can keep up with losing money (don't forget the cost of running the business itself, not just the buying/selling the merchandise) they just end up running the competition to the ground...

Go ask your tiny bookshops around the corner.
Rating: 9 Votes
16 months ago
This lawsuit is ridiculous. Must be funded by Amazon.

This is all very simple. Book publishers are upset with Amazon because they can't set the prices of their books (they want MORE money not less). They sign with Apple so they can set their own prices. Surprise, surprise, books are higher priced because Book publishers are allowed to set the prices to prices THEY want (higher).

Amazon should be the one sued, not Apple.
Rating: 9 Votes
16 months ago

This lawsuit is ridiculous. Must be funded by Amazon.

This is all very simple. Book publishers are upset with Amazon because they can't set the prices of their books (they want MORE money not less). They sign with Apple so they can set their own prices. Surprise, surprise, books are higher priced because Book publishers are allowed to set the prices to prices THEY want (higher).

Amazon should be the one sued, not Apple.


I like how you call the lawsuit ridiculous, then make a wildly unfounded assertion as to how the suit has been funded.

The free market should dictate prices. Prices shouldn't be artificially inflated simply because the laws of supply and demand are no longer working in your favour.
Rating: 9 Votes
16 months ago
OK, let's get this out of the way now...

Doesn't the Government have anything better to do...and so on.

:rolleyes:
Rating: 7 Votes
16 months ago

Whatever happened to free choice?

Consumers who don't like Apple pricing, can go to Amazon. Its that simple!


If you knew anything about this issue you would not be asking such a question. :rolleyes:

It has nothing to do with what Apple and Amazon charge for ebook, in simple terms. It is about why Apple and Amazon [have to] now charge extra for ebooks. It is regarding the [forced] change in business model with publishers supposedly changed by Apple under Steve Job's.

It's not that simple, Steve said so therefore it must be true.... Right?
Rating: 7 Votes
16 months ago

This was my understanding and so what Apple was introducing was a level playing field and Amazon and the US Government don't like it. Amazon because it means they can't run people out of business. The US Government argues that consumers lose. I would argue that letting Amazon engage in dumping and anti competitive behaviour means consumers lose longer term.

For me as a consumer I've seen the loss of book stores and I prefer to have them. Amazon is driving them out of business.

I lose the ability to thumb through a book before buying it.

I think there's a point where we should be saying no to mega businesses that suck the life out of communities. The crazy thing is allowing this immoral case to proceed also means the IRS and individual states lose income.

It appears that setting a minimum and what would be argued by many as a fair price is what the US Government is arguing is price fixing. The fact that Amazon avoids a bulk of it's US tax by basing itself largely in Luxembourg gives it a huge advantage over retailers in the US or pretty much any country worldwide.

This here is the issue for me. Apple go to set a minimum price that is fair that supports everyone. The US Government raise that another US company (Amazon) as an example effectively worth protecting for consumers. This is really the crux of their case. The US Government I understand is also pursuing for Amazon for $1.5 + Billion in unpaid or avoided tax. Ironic.

I personally think the US Government will lose the case. The intention of laws against price fixing is to stop prices being kept artificially high. In this case it seems a case of keeping the prices artificially fair in the light of Amazon's practices.

I have my fingers crossed for Apple. Americans should do the same, or pay more taxes to make up for the tax that Amazon is negating.


I can't believe what Apple apologists can come up with. "Apple go to set a minimum price that is fair that supports everyone." Really? In capitalism market is supposed to decide what the fair price is not Apple. You have some very Apple-centric model of capitalism in mind.
Rating: 6 Votes
16 months ago
I love hearing from Apple fanboys who don't know ANYTHING about the LAW.

Amazon did NOTHING illegal, NOTHING.

Just like your beloved APPLE reducing their taxes was NOT illegal.

Apple colluded with Publishers to keep ebook prices HIGH.

The customer could NOT just go to Amazon and buy the ebook for less. The publishers were setting the price by forcing Amazon to sell it at a certain price or not offering it to them at all.

BEFORE Apple got involved I was buying ebooks that cost less than the physical books. After Apple got involved the prices of ebooks skyrocketed and now are higher than their physical counterparts.

I hope Apple loses and losers BIG.

They STIFLED competition.
Rating: 6 Votes
16 months ago
This is the top comment on this topic @ r/technology.

[–]competitionroolz 2581 points 1 day ago*x2
Hi, all. Long time lurker, first time poster. I am an antitrust lawyer (among other things) and have followed this case closely, because it is interesting. Lots of the information in this thread is not accurate, probably because the coverage of this case fails in large part to capture its nuances. I am accordingly going to try to explain what is up.

Allow me to set the stage. Back in 2009, eBooks were sold using the traditional retail model, i.e. publishers sold them to resellers (like Amazon) and the resellers sold them at whatever price they chose. Amazon chose to sell them cheaply (at $9.99), even sometimes below cost, because they wanted everyone to buy Kindles and they thought cheap eBooks were the best way to make that happen. Even though the price at which Amazon sold eBooks to consumers did not directly affect the price the publishers received for those eBooks, the publishers still hated the cheap price, primarily because it threatened the paper book industry, i.e. if eBooks were cheap, people would more readily switch to that format instead of buying paper books (I believe publishers made more money off paper books).

Around this time, Apple was looking to introduce this neat new product called an “iPad” which, among other things, could serve as an eBook reader. The then-living Steve Jobs also hated what Amazon was doing, because it led to a perception that $9.99 was the proper price for an eBook and this limited the price at which Apple could sell eBooks through the iBookstore, meaning Apple made less money. As such, both Apple and the publishers had tremendous incentive to prevent Amazon from selling discounted eBooks.

So, what were the poor beleaguered publishers to do? Well, there was this other way of selling eBooks, called the “Agency Model.” As opposed to the traditional method of reselling eBooks described above (publisher sells to reseller, reseller sells to consumer at price it chooses), when a reseller sells an eBook pursuant to the Agency Model, the publisher from which the eBook originated controls the price at which the eBook is sold to the consumer. In other words, the contracts between the publishers and Amazon (for example) would require Amazon to sell that eBook at a price dictated by the publisher, thereby preventing Amazon (or anyone) from discounting eBooks.

There is a problem, though: if only one publisher begins selling books pursuant to the Agency Model, all that happens is that that publisher’s eBooks get more expensive and price-sensitive consumers switch to cheaper eBooks from other publishers. So the agency strategy only works if all publishers implement the strategy at the same time. It is the classic collective action problem: the benefits exist only if all parties move together, while the burdens fall on any party moving independently.

SPOILER ALERT: THIS IS WHERE THINGS GET ILLEGAL. Two things then (allegedly!) happen, one involving Apple and one not. The latter first: the publishers begin discussing among themselves agreeing to implement the Agency Model simultaneously, thereby making sure prices rise across the board. But they could not really make it happen until the second thing happened.

The second thing: Enter Jobs and the iPad. Jobs and Apple wished to switch the entire publishing industry to the Agency Model and, accordingly (also allegedly!) served as a go-between through which the publishers agreed to simultaneously switch to the Agency Model. In other words, Jobs went to publisher #1 and said “will you implement the Agency Model if publishers ##2,3,4, and 5 do?” Publisher #1 says “yes!” Jobs then goes to publisher 2 and says “Publisher #1 has agreed to switch to the Agency Model if you do. That cool?” Publisher #2 says “yes!” And so on. Pretty soon, Jobs has orchestrated an industry-wide agreement to impose the Agency Model.

The implementation of the Agency Model occurs essentially simultaneously with the introduction of the iPad. Amazon kicks and screams and fights, but succumbs to the model after some publishers just stop doing business with it until it agrees to do so. Now, the publishers have the ability to dictate the price at which Amazon and other resellers sell eBooks to consumers. They exercise that right to impose an across-the-board price increase on eBooks sold through all outlets. As a practical matter, this means the price for eBooks published by major publishers immediately jumps from $9.99 to $12.99 (in most instances).

Brief digression into antitrust law: What is critical to the wrongdoing here is the fact that there were agreements between the publishers pertaining to price. Because the publishers are competitors, the agreement was horizontal, meaning they occupy the same place in the distribution chain and sell to the same people. Horizontal agreements pertaining to price are the “supreme evil” condemned by the antitrust laws, and are the very most illegal thing competitors can do. This is because there is no possible competitive justification for a price-fixing agreement. What this means is that if Justice and the private plaintiffs can demonstrate the publishers agreed to put this agreement in place, the case is over and the publishers lose. So, the publishers, when caught, are up **** creek, and they all settle.

So, what about Apple? Because Apple does not compete with the publishers, its liability is premised on the fact that it orchestrated the agreements between the publishers. In other words, it is not really liable for any agreements it, itself, made. Rather, its liability (if proven) stems from the fact that it worked behind the scenes to make the horizontal agreements happen. It is a so-called “hub-and-spoke” conspiracy. Think of a wagon wheel. Apple is the hub. The publishers are the spokes. And the rim of the wheel is the illegal agreement. While Apple is not directly in competition with any of the publishers, by inserting itself as the hub through which the illegal conduct was facilitated, it incurred liability. I have not seen their pretrial statement, but I would guess their defense is that there may very well have been an illegal agreement between the publishers, but they did not make it happen.

That is the long and short of it. Couple of folks on here made reference to most favored nations clauses. This case really is not about those – they existed in the agreements, sure, and they were bad (and likely an enforcement mechanism), but the wrongdoing was the agreement on price.
Couple folks also made reference to monopolization. Also not an issue here. Apple is not, and never was, a monopolist in the eBooks market. The case is about horizontal agreement, i.e. good old cartelization & price-fixing.
It is interesting stuff, at least to me. I hope this explanation is helpful to some of you. Now I will go back to editing my brief.

TL/DR: This case is really just about a fancy new way of fixing prices, and everyone is guilty as hell.

Edit: To fix typos (typed Amazon where I meant to type Apple in last sentence of para 3; fixed there/there typo; similar etc.)

Edit: All of the above is based on allegations, not proof. Nothing will be proven until the trial is over, and if the government can't prove what they claim is true, they will lose. They might lose no matter what. Trials are scary, man.

Rating: 5 Votes

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