updated 09:35 pm EDT, Wed April 4, 2012
Apple may be last to bend on e-book truce
Some progress has been made on trying to negotiate a settlment on e-book antitrust disputes in the US and Europe, insiders disclosed Wednesday. Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster have reportedly agreed to terms that would dissolve the iBookstore deals they struck, the Wall Street Journal said, which gave them control over pricing and required that they offer no lower price than at Apple's store. Apple, Macmillan, and Pearson, however, were claimed to be "reluctant" to make a deal.
What had prompted the hesitance wasn't mentioned explicitly, although it was likely the same fear expressed by the Authors' Guild. It was concerned Amazon would regain too much power and resume price dumping, or selling below cost, to artificially inflate its market share. The Department of Justice's purported settlement would involve scrapping both the requirement for an agency model and the no-lower-price clause, with only a "cooling-off" period as a buffer.
Publishers have been arguing for a halfway measure that would drop the requirement that Apple get the best price, but which would still let them pick prices. The DOJ's resistance would have stemmed from a view that the agency model publishers want to keep was achieved through collusion, not deals independently reached at each publisher.
Although a settlement might not be reached, Apple and publishers may not have much choice. Both the DOJ and the European Commission would likely take formal action if they couldn't come to terms, and a ruling in the agencies' favor could force the defending parties to agree to all of the pricing changes.