Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2012 Issue

Department of Justice May Initiate Action for E-Book Price Fixing

Ibookstore

Apple's iBookstore.

Reports have come out that the U.S. Department of Justice is planning to sue five book publishers and Apple Computer for price-fixing of electronic books. This legal action by the government would come on top of a class action lawsuit earlier filed on behalf of consumers who allegedly overpaid for their e-books because of price-fixing. Meanwhile, it is also said that some of the publishers are negotiating behind the scenes in an attempt to reach a settlement of the dispute before it breaks into full-scale legal action.

The claim alleges that the publishers conspired with Apple to force up the retail prices of e-books charged by Amazon. Amazon was selling electronic books, most commonly at $9.99, at little or no mark-up, sometimes even at a loss. Amazon was willing to do this for two reasons – one to encourage customers to buy their Kindle brand of electronic readers, and secondly, to encourage people to buy all of their e-books from Amazon (presumably, eventually at a price profitable to Amazon). Amazon really wants people to be drawn into their world where they buy everything they need from Amazon.

The immediate reaction might be, why would the publishers mind Amazon selling their books so cheaply? The publishers weren't giving up their profits, only Amazon was. The more Amazon sells, the more money the publishers make, right? The publishers did not see it this way. They feared once consumers got hooked on low prices, they would never be able to raise them again. They also may have feared that prices too low on e-books would totally decimate their printed book business.

What allegedly happened next is what led to the possibility of legal action by the DOJ. Apple wanted to sell e-books for its iPad tablet computer, which can be used as an electronic book reader. However, Apple didn't care about undercutting the competition to gain market share. Apple figured the superiority of their products was sufficient to give them the largest share of the market. They just didn't want to be undercut by anyone else, Amazon in particular. Since the publishers wanted retail prices to go up anyway, the two sides, allegedly, agreed to a new method of pricing - the “agency model.”

Under the agency model, the publishers, not the retailer, sets the price. The retailer then gets a cut, in this case 30%. All retailers, under this model, charge the same. There is no competition on price. The most notable evidence of this supposed conspiracy came from Walter Isaacson's biography of the late Chairman of Apple, Steve Jobs. According to the biography, Jobs said, “We told the publishers, ‘We’ll go to the 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… They went to Amazon and said, ‘You’re going to sign an agency contract or we’re not going to give you the books.’”

It is not clear what happened next, but today most books at Amazon are priced at $14.99, not $9.99, and prices from Amazon and Apple are mostly the same.

Apple's defense to the claims may be gleaned from their response to the earlier class action lawsuit. In it, Apple says the complaint mischaracterized Jobs' comments, and “just strings together antitrust buzzwords.” The company innocently maintains that all it wanted to do was sell e-books, and had no incentive to raise prices. The idea that it would illegally attempt to squelch sales of Amazon's Kindle e-reader makes no sense, Apple claims, as they had a perfectly legal way of selling e-books – a multi-purpose electronic device that could do far more than just read electronic books (the iPad). Apple then asks, rhetorically, “Why would Apple conclude that conspiring to force Amazon to no longer lose money on eBooks would cripple Amazon’s competitive fortunes?” That sounds big of Apple, wanting to help Amazon stop losing money on e-book sales, but of course, losing money in the short term was Amazon's precise strategy to gaining a competitive advantage.

One other point Apple noted is particularly ironic. Prior to their entering the market, Apple said that Amazon controlled 90% of the e-book market. Their low, even money-losing pricing was keeping competitors out of the business. Now, Apple and others are able to compete in the e-book market. There is more “competition.” Normally, competition is good for the consumer, bringing prices down. However, in this case, the exact opposite seems to have occurred. Rather than competition bringing prices down, allegedly forced higher prices has increased the number of competitors. However, as consumers are well aware, the one thing these new “competitors” are not competing on is price. That is probably what most consumers want them to compete upon. After all, what difference does it make from whose website you download an electronic book if the prices are all the same?

The European Union is now believed to be examining the alleged price-fixing scheme as well. The five publishers believed to be being investigated are MacMillan, Hachette, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins.


Posted On: 2012-04-01 00:00
User Name: andyboybooks

Great article. As a consumer, I have been confused on what is the reason to purchase an e-book from Amazon, for more money that I can purchase


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.
  • <b>Booth & Williams: NO RESERVE Rare Book Auction, now through July 23, 7:15PM EDT</b>
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> John Muir. <i>My First Summer in the Sierra</i>, Boston, 1911.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Ernest Hemingway. <i>For Whom the Bell Tolls</i>, New York, 1940. First edition later printing.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Upton Sinclair. <i>The Jungle</i>, New York, 1906. First edition.
    <b>Booth & Williams: NO RESERVE Rare Book Auction, now through July 23, 7:15PM EDT</b>
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> George Orwell. <i>Nineteen Eighty-Four</i>, 1949. First American edition.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Harper Lee. <i>To Kill a Mocking Bird</i>, 1960. Early printing.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Richard Wright. <i>Native Son</i>, New York, 1940. First edition.
    <b>Booth & Williams: NO RESERVE Rare Book Auction, now through July 23, 7:15PM EDT</b>
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Dryden, Congreve, and others. <i>Ovid’s Art of Love</i>, London, 1764. English translation of Ovid’s work.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> S. E. Hinton. <i>The Outsiders</i>, New York, 1967. First edition.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> J. D. Salinger. <i>The Catcher in the Rye</i>, Boston, 1951. Book club edition.
    <b>Booth & Williams: NO RESERVE Rare Book Auction, now through July 23, 7:15PM EDT</b>
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Ayn Rand. <i>Atlas Shrugged</i>, New York, 1957. Early printing.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> J. D. Salinger. <i>Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters</i> and <i>Seymour: An Introduction</i>, Boston, 1963. First [book] edition, third state.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Tennessee Williams. <i>Sweet Bird of Youth</i>, 1959. First edition.
  • <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>Keep Calm and Carry On</i>, designer unknown, 1939. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, <i>Le Journal / La Traite des Blanches</i>, 1899. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>"Let Us Go Forward Together,"</i> designer unknown, 1940. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, <i>Babylone d'Allemagne</i>, 1894. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Frank Beatty, <i>Out of the Running</i>, 1929. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Wake Up America Day</i>, 1917. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>Danté / Sim • Sala • Bim!</i>, designer unknown. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>[Zodiac]</i>, 1900. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Rick Griffin, <i>Jimi Hendrix Experience / John Mayall</i>, 1968. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Abram Games, <i>Join the ATS</i>, 1941. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Aldo Mazza, <i>Torino / Esposizione Internazionale</i>, 1911. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Robert Motherwell, <i>Julliard School / Dedication - Lincoln Center</i>, 1969. $3,000 to $4,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions