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The Wall Street Journal has some further news on the putative e-book pricing settlement in the US Justice Department and European Commission joint anti-trust investigation of the “Agency Five” publishers plus Apple. Anonymous sources have told the Journal that three publishers are inclined to settle and two others (plus Apple) are holding out. HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster reportedly favor settling, while Penguin and Macmillan (plus Apple) do not. (Random House, who waited a year to implement agency pricing, was not part of the investigation.)

"The companies involved know very well under which conditions we are ready to settle," [Europe’s competition commissioner Joaquin] Almunia said in an interview. "If our conditions cannot be met in a satisfactory way, we will continue our investigation."

Per these anonymous sources, the settlement conditions would include a “cooling-off period” during which agency pricing would be suspended. The Justice Department feels that agency pricing was only possible due to all the publishers and Apple getting together, and such a cooling-off period would allow publishers and booksellers to resume their independent one-to-one relationships. The length of such a period is the subject of one of the settlement talks.

It’s not clear what such a settlement would mean for odd man out Random House, who imposed agency pricing but did so after a long enough wait that it wasn’t seen as part of the original conspiracy. Presumably the company could make its own decision to drop prices to match those of its competitors’ books during the cooling-off period.

 
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