March 13, 2012
Grim News(?): Will DOJ's possible eBook price-fixing lawsuit awaken a slumbering antitrust enforcement giant to examine anti-competitive practices in legal publishing?
As a quick follow-up to Mark Giangrande's March 8, 2012 post, Apple And Publishers May See Antitrust Litigation Over e-Book Pricing, on March 9, 2012 The Authors Guild posted a Dear Members "Letter from Scott Turow: Grim News." A couple of snips:
[The] report that the Justice Department may be near filing an antitrust lawsuit against five large trade book publishers and Apple is grim news for everyone who cherishes a rich literary culture.
We have no way of knowing whether publishers colluded in adopting the agency model for e-book pricing. We do know that collusion wasn't necessary: given the chance, any rational publisher would have leapt at Apple's offer and clung to it like a life raft. Amazon was using e-book discounting to destroy bookselling, making it uneconomic for physical bookstores to keep their doors open.
True enough. However, general trade publishers don't have to sell their eBooks via any sort of wholesale pricing matrix offered by e-Retailers like Amazon or Apple. That has been their decision; they can rely on their own e-Commerce sites. The same is true for selling their pBook editions. These topics were discussed in LLB's two part series, Market and Distribution Cannibalization in the General Trade Publishing Industry for eBooks, Part One: Crafting a pricing matrix for eLending and Part Two: Outcome objectives of publishers and libraries as intermediaries between authors and readers of eBooks.
The Authors Guide president adds:
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.
What I find most interesting about the DOJ's interest in this eBook situation, is an awakening of the slumbering antitrust enforcement giant and the consequences that may have for anti-competitive practices in other publishing market sectors, like for example, practices engaged by some major legal information vendors. Time for a dose of concerted consumer advocacy? [JH]