EU reportedly poised to accept Apple e-books settlement


The European Union is poised to accept a settlement in the case it brought against Apple and publishers over e-book price fixing, Reuters reports. Apple and four publishers -- Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster -- were part of a settlement offer made in September.

“European Union regulators are to accept an offer by Apple and four publishers to end an antitrust probe into their e-book prices, two sources said,” Reuters writes, “handing Amazon victory in a bid to sell online books cheaper than its rivals, sources said.”

The action in the EU roughly parallels the e-book price fixing suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in April. In the case, five major publishers -- Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster -- were accused of colluding with Apple to fix the prices of e-books. In that case, Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster agreed immediately to a settlement.


One difference between the cases in the U.S. and the European Union is the stance of Macmillan. The publisher’s European parent Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck is reported to be ready to agree to a settlement; in America, Macmillan head John Sargent took a very public stance that there had been no collusion. Macmillan apparently plans to fight the case in American courts. The same goes for Apple.

Then there’s Penguin, the fifth and last publisher involved in the European and American e-book price fixing suits, which did not participate in either settlement. Whether Penguin will end up in court or seek separate settlement terms may be affected by its pending merger with Random House.

A merger between the world’s largest publisher Random House and Penguin was announced last month. It’s huge news for publishing -- it would mean there are five major publishers instead of six, and a single company would control more than a quarter of all trade books published each year. But it’s not clear what the merger will mean for Penguin’s position in the e-book price-fixing cases.

Random House, which did not offer its e-books to Apple when the iPad launched with the iBookstore, has not been involved in the e-book price-fixing suits. Yet Penguin has been. Stay tuned for what that means for future publisher Penguin Random House.


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