A long-running controversy has shaken the book industry, and it could affect the way you buy, access and read the books you love. On Friday, three major book publishers agreed to pay $69 million in a settlement of the highly-publicized lawsuit alleging that five of the “big six” publishers colluded with Apple to fix e-book prices, and possibly changed the future of book publishing forever.
Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers and Simon & Schuster have settled, while Apple, Penguin Group and MacMillan have not.
According to PC World, the lawsuit came “after a two-year antitrust investigation by the DOJ and the Connecticut and Texas attorneys general. The investigation allegedly found that the publishers worked with Apple to set prices for e-books and limit the discounts retailers could give,” essentially “increasing retail e-book prices for all consumers.”
But Apple and the book publishers insist that there was no collusion and that they followed pro-consumer retail models. As a consumer of books, what do you think? Take a look at how the settlement could affect you.
What does the settlement mean for you?
1. It hurts traditional book publishers by taking away their control to price their own books in the marketplace. Take a look at the kind of books these publishers develop, market and sell. If you have ever read and loved one of these books, then the DOJ settlement is one to keep an eye on.
Hachette: “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks; “Now You See Her” by James Patterson
HarperCollins: “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt; “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein
Simon & Schuster: “The Other Boleyn Girl” by Philippa Gregory; “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson
Penguin Group: “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini; “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett
Macmillan: “Where We Belong” by Emily Giffin; “Night” by Elie Wiesel
2. It hurts brick-and-mortar bookstores by allowing competitors such as Amazon to price books below cost. Most physical bookstores are unable to give such steep discounts because they have to pay rent and employees. But many consumers are looking for the best bargain and will go for Amazon every time.
3. It hurts our communities by making it more difficult for local shops to sell books. When the only way to buy a book is to order it on the internet, Amazon will have won. Do you really want to live in a world with no bookstores to browse?
4. It hurts authors by allowing their books to be sold at deep discounts and putting financial strain on their publishers. A number of authors, including Richard Russo and Ann Patchett, have spoken out against the DOJ lawsuit and its potentially harmful consequences for the book industry.
5. It hurts each individual reader by reducing the diversity of the reading market. Publishers develop a variety of authors and books to appeal to virtually every taste on the planet. Each publisher that is forced to cut back, or struggles and fails in this tough environment, represents dozens or hundreds of potential books that may never be published.
Is the Department of Justice lawsuit fair?
Despite accusations of collusion, Apple continues to assert the opinion that they have done nothing wrong, as do the publishers who have refused to settle. Representatives from these companies have stated that there was no collusion to raise e-book prices or reduce competition within the industry.
Apple’s attorney released a forceful statement claiming their innocence and criticizing the controversial lawsuit:
“Apple has never participated in, encouraged, or sought to benefit from collusion. It has no objection to the Proposed Judgment’s bar on collusion. But the Government proposes to go much further. It seeks to terminate and rewrite Apple’s bargained-for contracts” (artstechnica.com).
The retail models that are good for publishers are also good for authors (who rely on their support and development), and therefore, obviously good for readers who want access to quality authors’ books.
Who will benefit?
Who will benefit from the DOJ settlement?
The wholesale model of selling e-books, which the DOJ favors, allows Amazon to price e-books as low as they want –which, since they are known for selling e-books at a loss to drive sales of more expensive items (like Kindles) — means that their pricing is beyond competitive. It blows everyone else out of the water. Which is good for consumers in the short run, because they pay less for e-books, but bad in the long run because it eliminates competitive retailers and puts financial strain on publishers.
In the end, it will be us (the readers) who make the choice about who wins this battle. Will you support the publishers who bring you the books you love to read? Or would you prefer to pay less for e-books in a potentially less competitive, less rich reading environment? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo credit: Cristian Eslava