Price Fixing

I think price fixing is still illegal no matter what your reasons or motivations for doing it. I’ve been following the response to the Justice Department’s suit against Apple and publishers, and the most common response in the media (Atlantic, New York Times) appears to echo the defendants’ arguments: we had to change how pricing worked in order to compete with Amazon, which has huge ebook market share and decreases our profits. OK, that’s fine, but when an entire industry does it at once, particularly if they agree to do it at private meetings with each other, that is, if we’re enforcing the law, illegal.

I am pretty unsympathetic to the defendants.

Apple’s iBook store shows no sign of Apple being interested in stocking it with anything other than bestsellers. They made a deal to launch their book store but don’t appear to have done much with it.

Scott Turow is the 1% of authors, as he admits. And it is deeply, deeply disingenuous to contrast the Kindle’s proprietary format with the supposedly “open” ePub format used by Sony…which comes with Adobe DRM. An actually open approach to ebooks would be a fine competitive strategy, according to Baldar Bjarnason and, well, current sales of DRM-free music.

Turow’s money quote, “Let’s hope the reports are wrong, or that the Justice Department reconsiders. The irony bites hard: our government may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition,” seems bizarre to me. Perhaps it’s my perspective, but six global publishers controlling book publishing doesn’t really seem like competition to me. The question is who’s going to make the money from ebooks, no more than that.

Librarian observations

  • five of the six major publishers are not selling ebooks to Overdrive, the major source of ebooks for public libraries
  • Harper Collins thought it was reasonable to make libraries buy another copy of an ebook which circulated 26 times.

If Amazon abuses its market power that is a separate anti-trust question which I hope will be dealt with the same way.

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Boston area academic librarian and instructional designer. News junkie. Fan of marine mammals, October.