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Apple and five book publishers were using an agency sales model that raised the prices of e-books

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is planning to launch a lawsuit against Apple and five U.S. publishers for allegedly conspiring to raise e-book prices through an agency sales model.

Last December, the European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation into whether five international e-book publishers had been practicing anti-competitive tactics with the help of Apple and its e-book store iBooks. Shortly after, the U.S. Justice Department climbed aboard the investigation as well.

After investigating the suspicious tactics, the DOJ has now warned Apple and the five book publishers that it plans to sue them for raising the prices of e-books. The five book publishers involved are Hachette Livre (Lagardère Publishing France), Harper Collins (News Corp., U.S.A.), Simon & Schuster (CBS Corp., U.S.A.), Penguin (Pearson Group, United Kingdom) and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck (owner of inter alia Macmillan, Germany).

Traditionally, publishers sell physical books to retailers for about half of the cover price, which is considered a wholesale model. Retailers then had the power to sell those books to customers for a lower price if they wanted to.

However, the e-book industry rocked this model and rubbed publishers the wrong way. Amazon started selling best sellers for as low as $9.99 in an effort to encourage Kindle sales. When Apple came along with iBooks, publishers were worried that the tech giant would take over the book industry the way it did the music industry with iTunes.

Apple then struck a deal with publishers in 2010, where they'd settle on an agency model instead. The agency model allowed publishers to set the price of the book and Apple would receive a 30 percent cut. However, publishers were not allowed to let rivals sell the same book for a lower price.

According to the DOJ, Apple and the five publishers did this to raise the prices of e-books, which violates federal antitrust laws. The publishers reacted to these claims, saying that the agency model was used to "enhance" competition in the e-book industry by helping e-book sellers to make some money out of the deal.

The DOJ isn't buying this excuse, though. The government is wondering how competition could have increased when prices were increasing.

Apple, the publishers and the DOJ are currently in talks regarding e-book prices. While the DOJ warned Apple and the publishers that it plans to sue them for allegedly conspiring to raise prices, some publishing executives associated with the talks have said that a settlement is being considered. Some solutions that have been passed around included the idea to keep the agency model, but allow booksellers to offer some discounts.

Apple has jumped heavily into the book selling and publishing business with the recent launch of iBooks 2, which is the sequel to the iBooks app that provides students with books they need as well as study features, and iBook Author, which is Mac software that allows textbook writers and publishers to create textbooks for the iPad.

Undoubtedly, e-books are an essential part of the iPad experience, and with the announcement of the iPad 3 release just yesterday, Apple likely wants to get this DOJ business figured out quickly.

Sources: Reuters, The Wall Street Journal

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RE: Interesting
By Paladin21 on 3/8/2012 4:28:37 PM , Rating: 3
Apple started this mess by letting the publishers set the prices at an absolute level, with them taking a cut. It isn't about a best customer agreement, it's about the fact that other retailers *can't* change the pricing, even if they are taking the cut out of their profit.

For example, the publisher's set the price of a book at $10, they get $7, Apple gets $3. Amazon decides that they're OK with getting $2 per copy, and still giving the publishers $7, for a sale price of $9. This is how competition is supposed to work. Instead, the publishers said to charge the $10 price or they'll cut off all your books, you aren't allowed to go below the price floor for any reason. This is what the investigation is about.

RE: Interesting
By Shadowself on 3/8/2012 5:21:25 PM , Rating: 2
That really is the point.

Apple says that if you sell it to the *end customer* through Amazon for $9.00 then you must sell it to the *end customer* through Apple at $9.00.

It is up to the publisher to negotiate with Apple for something other than 30%. If Apple insists on 30% and the publisher does not like it then the publisher can either decide to sell that book through Apple or not.

Hell, all the publishers could walk away from Apple until Apple lowers its cut to 5%. Effectively that would kill Apple's bookstore as I doubt Apple would run the store on such thin margins. With Amazon and others out there, the direct impact to the publishers would be very small in the short term. They are just choosing to not put up a stink about Apple's 30% request. Why is Apple asking for 30%? Because that is what the major record labels agreed to for music. Apple just hit "copy and paste" on that.

And it's not true that other retailers "can't" change the pricing. It's that if they change the pricing to the end customer then Apple gets to sell it to the end customer at that lower price too.

Think of it as the exact opposite of price fixing.
Apple sells the item for $10.00, the publisher gets $7.00 and Apple gets $3.00.
The publisher lets another company sell that item for $9.00.
Apple requires that the publisher allow Apple to sell it for $9.00 too. Then the publisher gets $6.30 and Apple gets $2.70 (unless the publisher gets Apple to take less). Apple gets less by going to the lower price too.

Where is the "price fixing"?

In your own words, "Apple started this mess by letting the publishers set the prices..." The publishers are setting the prices, not Apple.

Again, this has nothing to do with price fixing. The price to the end customer is always the best price available.

Finally, you state, "Instead, the publishers said to charge the $10 price or they'll cut off all your books, you aren't allowed to go below the price floor for any reason." This is the **Publishers** dictating prices, not Apple. If the publishers wanted to go to $0.99 or even FREE Apple would still sell their books.(As I understand, it there are lots of FREE books on the Apple store for which Apple's 30% is ZERO.)

RE: Interesting
By ALNorm on 3/8/2012 6:47:33 PM , Rating: 2
And it's not true that other retailers "can't" change the pricing. It's that if they change the pricing to the end customer then Apple gets to sell it to the end customer at that lower price too.

You were spot on until this comment. The agency pricing model and how it came to be is what is under question in this suit.

Under the agency pricing model, the retailer has ZERO control over the price. Amazon cannot change the sales price of a title that is priced using the agency model, else it would probably still take a loss on several titles to push more Kindles.

The price-fixing issue should probably be called pricing system collusion.

RE: Interesting
By The0ne on 3/8/2012 6:55:37 PM , Rating: 2
That is one reason amazon wants to become a publisher itself :) yay or run for your life, it's up to you. Me, it's RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!

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