Apple Sued by U.S. Gov't, Won't Even Dignify it With a Public Response
April 11, 2012 4:50 PM
comment(s) - last by
Apple and UK firm appear ready to fight DOJ lawsuit on e-book collusion, despite other publishers settling
The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a formal antitrust lawsuit against gadgetmaker Apple, Inc. (
) and several top book publishers, claiming they conspired to drive up profits at the expense of free competition.
I. Apple Profits From E-Book Price Bump
Controversial business mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corp. (
), sent shockwaves through the e-book industry when he
brokered a deal with Apple
to sell best-sellers for as much as $14.99 USD on the
first generation iPad
But the so-called "agency pricing" scheme didn't necessarily benefit the publishers.
The e-book price increase was the brain-child of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
[Image Source: The New York Times]
It all stemmed from a scheme spearheaded by late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He wrote one of the publishers in an email published by the DOJ, "Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream e-books market at $12.99 and $14.99."
Walter Isaacson biography
of the late chief executive, Mr. Jobs recalled his pitch as, "We'll go to [an] agency model where you set the price, and we get our 30%, and, yes, the customer pays a little more, but that's what you want anyway."
Under the scheme, Apple would get 30 percent of the cost -- similar to its app revenue split. That worked out to about $3.90 USD on a $12.99 book, or $4.50 on a $14.99 book. While the publisher's total take might have been a bit higher than the cut of the $9.99 e-book pioneer Amazon.com, Inc. (
) charged, it was clear Apple was pocketing the majority of the price increase.
II. Cornerstone of Deal was Apparent Collusion
But the publishers bought the deal, as it allowed them to push for similar terms with Amazon. In fact, Apple's deal reportedly demanded that any publisher selling books in iTunes could not sell its books for a lower price at a rival outlet. The publishers used the deal as ammo to broker more lopsided deals with Amazon in that they pocketed a higher rate and bumped the price.
Faced with threats of severed supply, Amazon begrudgingly caved in and
raised its prices
. The publishers' gamble had paid off.
The price transition was widely viewed as more destructive to Amazon's sales than Apple's given that Amazon sold to budget-savvy customers, where as Apple peddled its product to consumers willing to pay steep markups for perceived quality.
Apple's e-books deal offered little benefit to consumers. [Image Source: Getty Images]
Amazon already offered cross-platform e-books and unlike Google Inc.'s (GOOG) efforts, Apple's iPad e-book store did not look to offer out-of-print works. In other words, while the iPad drove up e-book prices, it did little to put e-books in the hands of consumers that would not already have had them. Thus the deal did not seem to benefit anyone but Apple and the publishers, at the expense of customers.
But just because Apple's deal wasn't good for customers, didn't necessarily mean it was illegal. Or did it?
III. DOJ Takes Action
Antitrust laws in the U.S. and Europe prevent top competitors in a market from making joint pricing decision (colluding) to drive up prices on consumer goods. By all appearances that was precisely what Apple and the publishers had just orchestrated.
Thus over a year after the iPad launch, pressure on Apple began to turn up:
Dec. 6, 2011: The
European Commission opens a formal antitrust investigation
in e-book price fixing.
Dec. 7, 2011: The U.S. Department of Justice
opens up a sister investigation
into the price fixing.
Mar. 1, 2012: Top e-book publisher Random House (owned by private German firm Bertelsmann AG) announced it is bumping prices for libraries
by 300 percent
Mar. 7, 2012: Apple's
third generation iPad
Mar. 8, 2012: Rumors break that the DOJ
is preparing to sue Apple
Apr. 11, 2012: Rumor had it that the
suit would land today
The U.S. DOJ today made good on rumors and
filed a suit
against Apple and five publishers -- News Corp.'s HarperCollins; CBS Corp.'s (
) Simon & Schuster; UK publisher Pearson plc's (
) Penguin and MacMillan units; and The Hatchett Group, a subsidiary of French publisher Hatchette Livre, which in turn is a child of French conglomerate Lagardère (
Only Apple and one publisher are fighting the suit. Apple wouldn't even dignify the U.S. government with a public response. [Image Source: AP]
To recap, that's two U.S. media conglomerates, plus Apple, a UK media congomerate, and a French multi-industry conglomerate who have been targeted in the suit.
Sharis Pozen, head of the DOJ's antitrust division, told reporters, "This took place at the highest levels of these companies. Executives knew full-well what they were doing.This action drove up e-book prices virtually overnight. Let me be clear: When companies enter agreements that prevent price competition, that is illegal."
Similar litigation is expected to drop shortly in the EU.
IV. Publishers Rush to Settle, Apple and UK Publisher Alone Vow to Fight
While the EU tends to seek punitive damages, the primary goal of the DOJ appears to be to enable a market "reset" scrapping the price-fixing provisions of Apple's deal and forcing e-book makers to cooperate with Amazon on lower priced options.
The deal could be a big boost to Amazon's
increasingly promising tablet efforts
. It could also boost Barnes & Noble, Inc. (
have proven a solid challenger to larger players like Amazon or Apple.
The settlement and reduced e-book pricing could add extra fuel to Amazon's Kindle Fire.
Ms. Pozen discusses the potential of settlement, stating, "The settlement will begin to undo harm and restore price-competition. It will result in lower e-book prices and provide a more open and fair marketplace."
So far, HarperCollins [
], the Hatchette Group [
], and Simon & Schuster [
] -- also the target of lawsuits from state attorney generals -- agreed to settle.
Apple and the Pearson plc subsidiaries refused to settle. This could put them in a pretty bad spot. While the other publishers refused to admit guilt in their settlements (as is typically the case), their decision to opt to quickly settle looks rather damning.
The Cupertino gadgetmaker did not even dignify the U.S. government with a public response, yet. But soon it may have to respond in court.
DOJ [press release]
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
4/12/2012 2:43:57 PM
o dam collusion to compete against amazon who already have a stranglehold
you're some expert now are you? sources? am looking for obviousness
looks like Apple wanted to compete against competitors and the publishers got together to make it happen
Apple would have gotten their share of profits no matter the price it was the publishers who made the fatal choice
"If you mod me down, I will become more insightful than you can possibly imagine." -- Slashdot
DOJ Could Sue Apple As Soon As Today Over E-Books, Works to Settle With 5 Publishers
April 11, 2012, 9:15 AM
Kindle Fire Moves 4.7 Million Units, Cuts Into iPad's Market Share
March 14, 2012, 11:29 AM
DOJ Threatens Apple, Book Publishers with Lawsuit Regarding E-Book Sales
March 8, 2012, 9:55 AM
Random House Raises E-Book Prices for Libraries as Much as 300 Percent
March 5, 2012, 10:14 AM
Apple Launches Third Generation iPad with Retina Display, LTE; 16GB iPad 2 Drops to $399
March 7, 2012, 1:29 PM
Retiree Sues Apple For $7,500 for Wiping Honeymoon Photos From His iPhone
November 30, 2015, 10:23 AM
iPhone 7 May Pack 3-4 GB Memory, More Storage; 4-Inch Comeback is Rumored
November 20, 2015, 10:12 PM
OnePlus One, OnePlus 2 Will Receive Android Marshmallow in Q1 2016
November 16, 2015, 9:58 AM
Lenovo Whoa: Motorola Droid MAXX 2 and Turbo 2 Break Cover in Leaks
October 26, 2015, 3:12 PM
Leak: Apple Preps for First Real Android App Foray With New Apple Music App
October 24, 2015, 1:59 PM
Pepsi Smartphone? Empty Calories Coming Soon to the Midrange
October 12, 2015, 11:41 PM
Latest Blog Posts
Sceptre Airs 27", 120 Hz. 1080p Monitor/HDTV w/ 5 ms Response Time for $220
Dec 3, 2014, 10:32 PM
Costco Gives Employees Thanksgiving Off; Wal-Mart Leads "Black Thursday" Charge
Oct 29, 2014, 9:57 PM
"Bear Selfies" Fad Could Turn Deadly, Warn Nevada Wildlife Officials
Oct 28, 2014, 12:00 PM
The Surface Mini That Was Never Released Gets "Hands On" Treatment
Sep 26, 2014, 8:22 AM
ISIS Imposes Ban on Teaching Evolution in Iraq
Sep 17, 2014, 5:22 PM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information