Publishers and Apple end EU ebook dispute

APPLE and four major publishers have reached an agreement with the European Commission (EC) that will allow retailers such as Amazon to sell ebooks at a discount.

The EC said yesterday that the Californian firm, along with four out of the world’s five biggest publishers – Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster – had agreed to change how ebooks are priced after being threatened with antitrust fines.
The publishers switched from the “wholesale” model of pricing – which enables retailers to set their own price – to the “agency” method, in which the publishers set prices, in 2010 after negotiations with then Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, who did not want to compete with Amazon on ebook pricing in Apple’s iBookstore for the iPad.

“The Commission has concerns that this switch may have been the result of collusion between competing publishers, with the help of Apple, and may have been aimed at raising retail prices of ebooks,” an EC statement said. The four publishers have now agreed not to fix book prices over the next two years, allowing Amazon and other ebook sellers to reduce their prices.

The remaining major publisher Penguin – owned by British firm Pearson – has not reached an agreement. The EC said: “Penguin has not offered any commitments and the investigation into their conduct is ongoing.”

Penguin said: “We don’t feel we have done anything wrong and we will continue to cooperate fully and openly with the Commission.