U.S. Government Warns Apple and Publishers of Antitrust Lawsuit over e-Book Pricing

Last December, the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged that it was conducing an antitrust investigation into the new "agency model" of e-book pricing that was championed by Apple ahead of its iBookstore rollout, a model in which publishers could set the retail prices of their books but could not sell them to retailers other than Apple for lower prices. A similar investigation has been ongoing in Europe as well.

The Wall Street Journal now reports that the Department of Justice has warned Apple and five e-book publishers that it intends to file an antitrust lawsuit against the companies over the matter, in which the companies are alleged to have colluded to raise the price of e-books.

Several of the parties have held talks to settle the antitrust case and head off a potentially damaging court battle, these people said. If successful, such a settlement could have wide-ranging repercussions for the industry, potentially leading to cheaper e-books for consumers. However, not every publisher is in settlement discussions.

The five publishers facing a potential suit are CBS Corp.'s Simon & Schuster Inc.; Lagardere SCA's Hachette Book Group; Pearson PLC's Penguin Group (USA); Macmillan, a unit of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH; and HarperCollins Publishers Inc., a unit of News Corp. , which also owns The Wall Street Journal.

Many publishers were happy to sign on to Apple's agency model for book pricing, seeking to gain greater control of pricing for their content. After signing deals with Apple, they then turned to Amazon and other retailers, forcing them into the same arrangements by threatening to withhold their books from those retailers.

The Justice Department believes that Apple and the publishers acted in concert to raise prices across the industry, and is prepared to sue them for violating federal antitrust laws, the people familiar with the matter said.

The publishers have denied acting jointly to raise prices. They have told investigators that the shift to agency pricing enhanced competition in the industry by allowing more electronic booksellers to thrive.

Arguments that the agency model has actually increased competition center on Amazon's dominant position in the retail book industry, where it had frequently sold books at razor thin profits or even losses in order to attract customers for its broader shopping offerings. Under the agency model, greater price uniformity across retailers has allowed more companies to be competitive in the marketplace.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
110 months ago
Sounds feasible to me, I know for a fact when I check e-book vs hardcopy prices I've found e-books to be much more expensive on numerous occasions. This doesn't make sense from a printing and delivery standpoint, and makes me believe these companies are trying to take advantage of the hype and popularity behind ebooks as a new technology. I hope they come down hard on Apple and Publishers if it's true, ripping off customers should not be a business model for any company. No sympathy for greed.
Score: 40 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
110 months ago

Sounds feasible to me, I know for a fact when I check e-book vs hardcopy prices I've found e-books to be much more expensive on numerous occasions. This doesn't make sense from a printing and delivery standpoint, and makes me believe these companies are trying to take advantage of the hype and popularity behind ebooks as a new technology. I hope they come down hard on Apple and Publishers if it's true, ripping off customers should not be a business model for any company. No sympathy for greed.


Well said. The price of ebooks is WAY WAY too high. I even think they would make more profit if they had lower prices. Like 1/2 compared to the printed editions.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
110 months ago
Finally!

Fact is it costs a great deal LESS to distribute an ebook.

Fact because of DRM and continually increasing limitations on library ebook loan programs the publishers will actually sell more books in the long run compared to paper books.

Why are none of these savings (and increased sales) not being at all passed on to the consumer? Collusion by publishers to save old profit levels and potentially make higher ones because ebooks are cheaper to distribute).

I can't believe it's taken this long to get the gov regulators involved. Let's see if they actually do anything...
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
110 months ago

This isn't good! The government should not dictate what a company charges for it's products/services. If you are dissatisfied with Apple's pricing, you should buy your e-books from Amazon! If they overcharge, use Kobo or Barnes and Noble. If they overcharge, refuse to buy e-books until the pricing goes down.
It's called the free market.


Agreed that I am not a fan of government interference, but then again ... it is also a function of the government to keep a free market. If there was collusion to force others to raise their prices, then that is a place where the government has a rightful claim for interference.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
110 months ago
It's funny really: You see, on the one hand I feel it is appropriate to ensure people who make cultural things -- authors, artists, musicians and so on -- are able to make a comfortable living from their works. It enables them to focus on making the art I love.

On the other hand, I'm minded to oppose collusion. In this case, I fear only Amazon really wins, as if publishers can't keep publishing then we'll lose the more esoteric works as they'll focus entirely on mass market classics.

I find it hard to make a judgement call on what's right or wrong in this on those grounds.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
110 months ago

I think you're making the "mistake" of thinking about this logically.

Amazon gives a lot of money to democrats. The democrats are in power.

Apple competes with Amazon by undermining Amazon's monopoly on ebook publishing, and starts offering ebooks cheaper than Amazon was. So, Amazon calls their friends in washington-- Boom, Antitrust!

Antitrust is always used as a tool by one group to attack another group that is beating them in the free market.

IF you can't win in the marketplace, get government to use violence against your competitors.


This has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. It has to do with publishers getting together and setting prices for books and not letting book sellers, like Amazon, discount or deviate from the price they set. That's called price fixing and it's been illegal in this country for over 100 years. It's not a free market when companies collude to fix prices.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iPhone Maker Foxconn Says China's 'Days as the World's Factory Are Done'

Wednesday August 12, 2020 7:55 am PDT by
China will no longer be the world's manufacturing epicenter going forward, according to Apple's largest supply chain partner Foxconn, which has been gradually expanding its operations in other countries amid the U.S.-China trade war. "No matter if it's India, Southeast Asia or the Americas, there will be a manufacturing ecosystem in each," said Foxconn chairman Young Liu, according to Bloombe...

Leaker Jon Prosser: Apple Watch and iPad Launching in September, iPhone 12 Event to Take Place in October

Wednesday August 12, 2020 4:31 pm PDT by
Apple last month confirmed that this year's iPhone 12 models will launch outside of their normal September timeframe and will be "available a few weeks later," which has led to speculation about when an event might be held. Leaker Jon Prosser, who sometimes shares accurate knowledge of Apple's plans, today said that Apple will hold its iPhone 12 event during the week of October 12, with...

Apple Takes Legal Action Against Small Company With Pear Logo

Saturday August 8, 2020 11:09 am PDT by
Apple is taking legal action against the developers of the app "Prepear" due to its logo, according to iPhone in Canada. Prepear is an app that helps users discover recipes, plan meals, make lists, and arrange grocery deliveries. The app is a spinoff of "Super Healthy Kids," and the founders claim that they are facing litigation from Apple. Apple reportedly takes issue with Prepear's logo, ...

Apple to Launch Bundled Subscription Services Called 'Apple One'

Thursday August 13, 2020 3:41 am PDT by
Apple will launch a new range of subscription service bundles called "Apple One" as soon as October, according to a new report by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. The series of bundles would allow customers to subscribe to several Apple digital services together. This is expected to result in a lower monthly price than when the services are subscribed to individually. Bloomberg reports that the...

Apple Releases iOS and iPadOS 13.6.1 With Fix for Storage Issue and Green Tinted Displays

Wednesday August 12, 2020 1:31 pm PDT by
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 13.6.1, minor updates that come a month after the release of the iOS 13.6 update with Car Keys and Audio Apple News+ stories. The iOS and ‌iPadOS‌ 13.6.1 updates are available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the updates, go to Settings > General > Software Update. iOS 13.6.1 addresses an issue that could cause...

Apple May Release 4G-Only iPhone 12 in Early 2021

Tuesday August 11, 2020 5:28 am PDT by
In a research note shared by Business Insider, Wedbush Securities analysts said that Apple may release a cheaper iPhone 12 in early 2021 with no 5G connectivity. Wedbush initially believed Apple would launch a mix of 4G and 5G iPhone 12 models this fall. Following re-examination of Asian supply chains, analysts Daniel Ives, Strecker Backe, and Ahmad Khalil revised the predictions,...

Apple Removes Fortnite From App Store [Update: Epic Files Lawsuit Against Apple]

Thursday August 13, 2020 11:58 am PDT by
Just hours after Epic Games introduced a new direct payment option for Fortnite that skirts Apple's in-app purchase rules, Apple has pulled the Fortnite app from the App Store. Fortnite is no longer available for download on the iPhone or the iPad, and Apple provided a statement to MacRumors on Fortnite's removal:Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store...

iPad Pro Keyboard Comparison: Logitech's $160 Folio Touch vs. Apple's $300 Magic Keyboard

Tuesday August 11, 2020 2:11 pm PDT by
Logitech recently debuted the Folio Touch, a keyboard and trackpad case designed for the 11-inch iPad Pro that serves as an alternative to the Magic Keyboard. In our latest YouTube video, we compare the $160 Folio Touch to Apple's $300 Magic Keyboard to see which is better. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Logitech is selling the Folio Touch for $160, while Apple's...

Apple Releases macOS Catalina 10.15.6 Supplemental Update With Virtualization Bug Fix

Wednesday August 12, 2020 1:20 pm PDT by
Apple today released a supplemental update for macOS Catalina 10.15.6, with the update coming a month after the original launch of macOS Catalina 10.15.6. The ‌‌macOS Catalina‌‌ 10.15.6 Supplemental Update can be downloaded from the Mac App Store using the Update feature in the System Preferences app. According to Apple's release notes, the update fixes a problem that could cause...

Kuo: Global iPhone Shipments Could Decline Up to 30% If Apple Forced to Remove WeChat From App Store [Updated x2]

Sunday August 9, 2020 10:17 pm PDT by
In a worst-case scenario, Apple's annual global iPhone shipments could decline by 25–30% if it is forced to remove WeChat from its App Stores around the world, according to a new research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo viewed by MacRumors. The removal could occur due to a recent executive order aiming to ban U.S. transactions with WeChat and its parent company Tencent. Kuo lays out...