That's the headline in a story from The Telegraph today, written by Rupert Neate.
The drama continues with the wording, "European investigators raided several major publishers on Wednesday as the worldwide probe into allegations of price-fixing of ebooks stepped up a gear." The actual wording is more important than usual so I'll do more quoting than paraphrasing. The bracketed comments are mine.
' The European Commission said its agents had "reason to believe" that several unnamed companies across Europe "may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices".
The raids comes after the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) last month launched a similar probe into the prices of ebooks, which can cost more than twice as much as their printed cousins. [Exactly.]
The OFT's investigation focuses on publishers' ability to set ebook prices using "agency" pricing.
. . .
The discrepancy has led to some electronic books costing far more than a hardback version of the same book.
. . .
Earlier this year, Amazon said sales of ebooks for its Kindle ereader had overtaken paperback sales in the US for the first time. A similar investigation is under way in the US.
An EU Competition Commission spokesman refused to name the publishing houses raided, but said investigators were "working closely with the OFT".
Penguin, the publisher owned by Pearson, and Harper Collins, which is owned by News Corporation, are both being investigated by the OFT, but were not raided by EU investigators.
Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury, which has declared 2011 "the year of the ebook", refused to state whether or not it had been raided.
Publishers refused to comment on the legality of the agency pricing model. '
The Harry Potter books have never been made available on e-books, however, because the author doesn't want them available in that format.
But, this was really quick action, relatively speaking. Some thought it would take a year before any actual investigation.
UPDATE - 02/03/11, 11:37 AM (Original posting 3/2/11 at 11:52 PM PST)
The Bookseller has a far more detailed story about it by Philip Jones and Barbara Casassus.
I saw a brief post by Paul Biba on this, dated yesterday, at Teleread.com from probably an earlier article and searched Bookseller for a story just now.
I'll add a few excerpts here, as it's very long, and you should read the full article at the Bookseller site:
' . In some cases laptops and smartphones of senior executives have been seized.Much more at the Bookseller article.
. a spokeswoman added separately that it did not have "any proof". It said that it carried out "unannounced inspections" at publishing companies in several member states.
. French publisher Hachette Livre confirmed that an inspection had been conducted beginning on Tuesday (1st March) and continuing Wednesday at its Paris headquarters. [See story for other companies.]
. The AFP reported the following quote from Amelia Torres, spokeswoman for Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia: "The competition services Tuesday conducted inspections in publishing houses in several European Union countries due to suspicion of anti-competition practices in the pricing of e-books. We are not naming the publishing houses nor the countries because we are just at the beginning of the inquiry. We are not accusing anyone and we do not have any proof."
. "The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities. Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anti-competitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.
"There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct... '
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