Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kindle News: U.S files antitrust suit against Apple and publishers not settling. DOJ A/G statement at press conference included. UPDATE5

"Justice Department formally charges Apple, big five publishers in e-book price fixing case"

That's Engadget's headline

It's short and to the point. The Kindle Forum had the Engadget article, and the Washington Post one below, by Bob Van Voris, was sent by Edward Boyhan and has MUCH more detail. I have to leave, so I'll just direct you to the stories and to the transcript or release of Attorney General Holder's statement today.

Essentially, The DOJ decided to sue Apple, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster over alleged e-book price-rigging.  Apple and Macmillian have already denied any wrongdoing, Engadget points out, saying that the agreements were enhancing competition in an industry previously dominated by Amazon (Oh, brother).

Fuller story: Washington Post with Bloomberg, by Bob Van Voris.

The Kindle Forum members also came up with the US Dept of Justice webpage for Attorney General Eric Holder's speech today at the Ebooks Press conference.

  Here it is in its entirety, as it's meant for all of us as a public service.:
' Today I’m joined by Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division Sharis Pozen, and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, to announce the Justice Department’s latest progress in protecting American consumers from anticompetitive harm, ensuring fairness in the marketplace, and making certain that cutting-edge technologies are available at the lowest possible price.

In recent years, we have seen the rapid growth – and the many benefits – of electronic books. E-books are transforming our daily lives, and improving how information and content is shared. For the growing number of Americans who want to take advantage of this new technology, the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that e-books are as affordable as possible.

As part of this commitment, the Department has reached a settlement with three of the nation’s largest book publishers – and will continue to litigate against Apple, and two additional leading publishers – for conspiring to increase the prices that consumers pay for e-books.

Earlier today, we filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, against Apple and five different book publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster. In response to our allegations, three of these publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster – agreed to a proposed settlement. If approved by the court, this settlement would resolve the Department’s antitrust concerns with these companies, and would require them to grant retailers – such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble – the freedom to reduce the prices of their e-book titles. The settlement also requires the companies to terminate their anticompetitive most-favored-nation agreements with Apple and other e-books retailers.

In addition, the companies will be prohibited for two years from placing constraints on retailers’ ability to offer discounts to consumers. They will also be prohibited from conspiring or sharing competitively sensitive information with their competitors for five years. And each is required to implement a strong antitrust compliance program. These steps are appropriate – and essential in ensuring a competitive marketplace.

Beginning in the summer of 2009, we allege that executives at the highest levels of the companies included in today’s lawsuit – concerned that e-book sellers had reduced prices – worked together to eliminate competition among stores selling e-books, ultimately increasing prices for consumers. As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles.

During regular, near-quarterly meetings, we allege that publishing company executives discussed confidential business and competitive matters – including Amazon’s e-book retailing practices – as part of a conspiracy to raise, fix, and stabilize retail prices. In addition, we allege that these publishers agreed to impose a new model which would enable them to seize pricing authority from bookstores; that they entered into agreements to pay Apple a 30 percent commission on books sold through its iBookstore; and that they promised – through contracts including most-favored-nation provisions – that no other e-book retailer would set a lower price. Our investigation even revealed that one CEO allegedly went so far as to encourage an e-book retailer to punish another publisher for not engaging in these illegal practices.

In advancing this critical investigation, I’d like to thank Attorney General Jepsen and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott – along with our partners at the European Commission – for their hard work and close cooperation. Today’s action sends a clear message that the Department’s Antitrust Division continues to be open for business – and that we will not hesitate to do what is necessary to protect American consumers.

I am grateful for the outstanding leadership that Acting Assistant Attorney General Sharis Pozen has provided in this matter. Not only has she ensured a seamless transition in the Division’s senior leadership, she has proven that vigorous enforcement will remain its hallmark. I also want to commend her dedicated team, and thank each of the attorneys and investigators who worked so hard to make today’s announcement possible. Although this matter remains in its initial stages, it’s clear that, in all of you, the Department – and the American people – could have no stronger team of advocates.

At this time, I’d like to turn things over to Sharis, who will provide additional details on today’s action. '

Acting Asst. Atty General Sharis A Pozen speaks next
  She cites quotes from publishers in connection with openly conspiring among themselves to get Amazon to raise prices.

 She prefaced these with, "I would just like to give you a flavor of the egregiousness of the alleged behavior, which took place at the highest levels of these publishing companies by providing you with some statements from our complaint..."

Kindle-Edition blog subscribers
Again, Kindle-Edition subscribers can click on the links and once on the Web,
click Menu/Article-Mode and read these fairly comfortably.  I hope that will work well for most.

ApppleInsider talks about other aspects involved.  Simon & Schuster, Hachette and HarperCollins have already settled with the department to avoid the suit.  Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin are the holdouts.

From Reuters:
' The Justice Department complaint cites an email from an executive for an unnamed publisher pointing out the need for the publishers to work together to convince Amazon to raise prices.

"We've always known that unless other publishers follow us, there's no chance of success in getting Amazon to change its pricing practices," the executive wrote.

"Without a critical mass behind us, Amazon won't 'negotiate,' so we need to be more confident of how our fellow publishers will react," the executive said in the email. '

FULL TEXT of the DOJ case against Apple and the publishers, found by Larkspotter at the forum.  It's a 36-page pdf.

Wired's Tim Carmody reports DOJ Announces Terms of Settlement With Three Publishers in E-Book Suit.  He lists them and includes the proposed settlement doc.

Update 5 - Commenter Tom Semple writes that the Publishers Lunch site's Details From the DOJ's Lawsuit "summarizes some of the juicier details," so I'm adding it here while back briefly and am leaving again.
  Thanks, Tom!

Related articles
TIMELINE:  Ebook Pricing Wars - what DOJ would have seen.
Also, History of the e-book pricing wars

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1 comment:

  1. This summarizes some of the juicier details:

    Wonder when the settlements are to take effect?

    Macmillan CEO John Sargent's statement (followed by quote):

    "But the terms the DOJ demanded were too onerous. After careful consideration, we came to the conclusion that the terms could have allowed Amazon to recover the monopoly position it had been building before our switch to the agency model. We also felt the settlement the DOJ wanted to impose would have a very negative and long term impact on those who sell books for a living, from the largest chain stores to the smallest independents. "

    In other words, people really like the convenience and lower costs of ebooks and of purchasing print books online. Exactly what is wrong with that? I don't buy the argument that it is destroying book culture.

    Automobiles had a very negative and long term impact on those who sold horses for a living. But horses are still bred and sold. Domestic horse population is about half what it was at its peak in 1915, but it is stable (pun included).


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