Eddy Cue Speaks About iBooks Price-Fixing Case: 'We Feel We Have to Fight for the Truth'

In a new interview, Apple's Eddy Cue spoke with Fortune about the e-books pricing scandal that has plagued the company over the past several years. After a July 2013 judgment found the company guilty of conspiring to fix prices of electronic books, and a settlement in a class-action lawsuit was reached over the summer, the Apple negotiator at the center of the lawsuit has shared his thoughts on the case with Fortune ahead of Apple's appeals court appearance later this month.

The specifics of the case lie in the opening of the iBooks Store and the 17 percent industry-wide increase in e-book prices following its unveiling in April of 2010. Cue, Apple's "master negotiator", played a key role in convincing five of the then-six major publishing houses to start selling e-books through Apple's new store alongside the launch of the iPad. Part of the deal involved a shift in the pricing model for the entire e-books industry, eliminating Amazon's previous pricing advantage in which it would sometimes sell books at a loss in order to attract customers to Kindle hardware and other Amazon products.

These events led the Justice Department and thirty-three state attorneys general to sue Apple and those five publishing houses for horizontal price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act. While the publishing houses settled the lawsuits, Apple declined to do so and proceeded to trial in the federal case where the company was found guilty.

“Is it a fact that certain book prices went up?” asks Cue. “Yes. If you want to convict us on that, then we’re guilty. I knew some prices were going to go up, but hell, the whole world knew it, because that’s what the publishers were saying: ‘We want to get retailers to raise prices, and if we’re not able to, we’re not going to make the books available digitally.’ At the same time, other prices went down too, because now there was competition in the market.”

A settlement in the separate state and class-action consumer lawsuit worked out this past June sees Apple paying around $450 million if the company loses its appeal in the federal case and nothing if it wins. The case has dragged on far longer than most expect, and Cue argues that the company is fighting more for reputation than for monetary reasons.

Eddy Cue, Jimmy Iovine, Apple, Beats Music, Code Conference

“We feel we have to fight for the truth,” says Cue. “Luckily, Tim feels exactly like I do,” he continues, referring to Apple CEO Tim Cook, “which is: You have to fight for your principles no matter what. Because it’s just not right.”

Cue met with all six CEOs of the major publishing houses before the original iPad launched, and discovered most wanted the cost of e-books at price points both he and Steve Jobs considered too high. Cue proposed price tiers tied to the suggested retail prices of the hardback versions of the books.

As part of the shift to a new "agency model" of pricing similar to that used in the App Store, Cue also proposed a "most favored nation" clause, allowing Apple to match the price at which any retailer was selling a new e-book. When the iPad launched a few weeks later, most iBooks were priced between $12.99 and $14.99, higher than Amazon's typical $9.99 price point for best sellers but in the range of where publishers wanted to be selling their books. The agency model quickly became the industry standard, with Amazon also being required to adopt the pricing at the insistence of the publishers.

The sequence of events led Judge Denise Cote to rule in July 2013 that Apple was guilty of e-book price-fixing. When asked how he looks back on the "nightmare", Cue plainly stated, "If I had it to do all over again, I’d do it again. I’d just take better notes."

Apple will appear before the federal appeals court on December 15.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
74 months ago

You tell them, Fast Eddie.


Well, and there is Amazon which is _really_ trying to corner the eBook market. By all means. And there is Apple, trying to break the monopoly. And then there are people who have no idea what this case is about and deliberately misinterpret what Eddy Cue says.
Score: 31 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
74 months ago

Well, and there is Amazon which is _really_ trying to corner the eBook market. By all means. And there is Apple, trying to break the monopoly. And then there are people who have no idea what this case is about and deliberately misinterpret what Eddy Cue says.

Oh, the irony on calling others ignorant about the case and then saying that App tried to break a monopoly
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
74 months ago
You tell them, Fast Eddie.

How you kept your job after this blows my mind.


"Is it a fact that certain book prices went up?" asks Cue. "Yes. If you want to convict us on that, then we're guilty. I knew some prices were going to go up, but hell, the whole world knew it, because that's what the publishers were saying: 'We want to get retailers to raise prices, and if we're not able to, we're not going to make the books available digitally.' At the same time, other prices went down too, because now there was competition in the market."


Great, what are fighting? You admitted it. I give you credit for that.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
74 months ago
I confess I never followed this one real closely ....

But it sounds to me like Apple's making a sound argument. Book publishers were basically saying, "Screw you, Apple. We won't give you the rights to digital versions of our content because we don't think we get paid enough money when we sell our stuff that way." Apple said, "Well, hold on guys... How about you do pricing in tiers, like THIS (tied to the in store prices of the physical books)? Then you can make more money selling in our store and we're still at a price point we think is reasonable." They agreed, and it generally worked. Other publishers copied the same pricing structure, since it was working. And then people saw nobody was offering those "selling below cost" deals Amazon had been doing, and cried "Price fixing!" to the government.



Good to see Apple execs are as pompous as their products (I'm an Apple user - the products are a bit pompous don't you think?)

Stick to your principles Eddie, don't forget to fall on your sword - if you have any honor.

Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
74 months ago

Oh, the irony on calling others ignorant about the case and then saying that App tried to break a monopoly


Well the irony of posting "Oh, the irony".

Do you have any actual arguments why we shouldn't call Amazon the big bully in the eBook market that it is?
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
74 months ago

You tell them, Fast Eddie.

How you kept your job after this blows my mind.


"Is it a fact that certain book prices went up?" asks Cue. "Yes. If you want to convict us on that, then we're guilty. I knew some prices were going to go up, but hell, the whole world knew it, because that's what the publishers were saying: 'We want to get retailers to raise prices, and if we're not able to, we're not going to make the books available digitally.' At the same time, other prices went down too, because now there was competition in the market."


Great, what are fighting? You admitted it. I give you credit for that.


I doubt Eddie is saying anything that's not setup by Apple legal at this point.
Score: 8 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...