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With multinational companies chipping away at the edges of honesty, it’s easy to forget the simple things sometimes.

Make no mistake – anti-competitive (aka “Agency”) pricing is illegal in Australia.
Darryl Adams recently pointed this out on his blog Oz-e-Books – and it’s a timely reminder. In the face of large companies sending press releases “announcing” changes to their business practices to reinforce their “rights to set prices” across all retailers, sometimes we forget to question that.

Do they have that right? Do book publishers have the right to dictate the retail price of their products, when sold by third party retailers? Not the prices of some retailers – all retailers. The answer to that is no.
One of the jobs of Australia’s ACCC (our consumer watchdog, similar to the FTC in the US) is to ensure open price competition by retailers.

From Oz-e-Books:

With Random House entering the Agency Price Model with the rest of the 5 big publishers (Hatchet, Harper Collins, Random House, McMillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster), there has been a lot of discussion about the practice.

Firstly, to be clear, Agency Pricing is illegal in Australia. As a form of Price Maintenance, the practice is specifically barred under the Consumer and Competition Act of 2010.

As per the ACCC: http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/322982

Suppliers may try to impose a resale price to maintain brand positioning or to give resellers attractive profit margins.

Any arrangement between a supplier and a reseller that means the reseller will not advertise, display or sell the goods the supplier supplies below a specified price is illegal.


I’d say that’s pretty damn specific. So which publishers are breaking the law here?

Let’s investigate, shall we?

Method

1. I searched the Australian site for each publisher and picked titles at random, usually from their bestseller lists. Keep in mind some titles may be published under an imprint of the major publisher, but pricing rules (or lack thereof) still apply.

2. I went to the largest international ebookstore that has ties to Australia – and therefore stocks a decent number of titles that are available to locals here – Kobo.

3. I made sure the address set on my Kobo account was an Australian one – this was confirmed with prices at checkout appearing in AUD. Therefore the site recognised that I was “shopping” from Australia.

4. I went shopping – gathering price information on three books published by the local arm of each of the “Big Six” publishers, plus the largest independent Aussie publisher Allen & Unwin.

Criteria

  1. If there is a list price AND a sale price in the ebookstore, the publisher is not following “Agency” pricing, as no discount is allowed.
  2. The prices are usually higher with “Agency” pricing as no discount can be applied.
  3. Prices not affected by a discount – ie original (“Agency”) prices will generally end in .99 (as in $x.99)

Result

It’s obvious from these figures that Hachette Australia are following the “Agency” model of pricing for books sold to Australians. All three titles I looked at satisfy all three criteria (above) for agency pricing. The prices were higher, anded in .99 and Kobo had not applied any “our price” discount, as they had done with every other book from the other publishers. Why not – because they are not allowed to by the publisher. Therefore, as the ACC states here, Hachette Australia are acting illegally.

What you can do

If you too disagree with agency pricing, please pass this data around. Blog about it, share this post, Tweet it or spread it around Facebook. The more noise we can make about this, the more chance that the ACCC will take notice and investigate. Let’s put an end to anti-competitive pricing like this. Isn’t open competition the best situation for the consumer?

Here is the raw data from the ebooks I checked:

Macmillan

The Rules According To Jwoww

Jwoww and Jenni “Jwoww” Farley

List price: $16.19

Our price: $9.39

Thorn On The Rose

By Joy Dettman

List price: $17.99

Our price: $12.49


The Girl Who Played With Fire

By Stieg Larsson

List price: $13.49

Our price: $7.99

HarperCollins

Midnight

By Josephine Cox

List price: $26.39

Our price: $9.99

Booky Wook 2

By Russell Brand

List price: $28.00

Our price: $14.75

Bird Cloud

By Annie Proulx

List price: $22.39

Our price: $15.49

Random House

The Little Coffee Shop Of Kabul

By Deborah Rodriguez

List price: $32.95

Our price: $16.34

New York Valentine

By Carmen Reid

List price: $9.89

Our price: $7.69

Tick Tock

By James Patterson

List price: $26.79

Our price: $14.19

Simon & Schuster

The Secret

By Rhonda Byrne

List price: $14.19

Our price: $9.39

A Shore Thing

By Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi

List price: $24.39

Our price: $14.19

Hellhole

By Kevin J. Anderson Brian Herbert

List price: $20.29

Our price: $11.79

Penguin

I Am Number Four

By Pittacus Lore

List price: $10.89

Our price: $8.49

The Brightest Star in the Sky

By Marian Keyes

List price: $13.19

Our price: $9.19

The Lake of Dreams

By Kim Edwards

List price: $25.89

Our price: $11.89

Hachette

A Discovery of Witches

By Deborah Harkness

Price: $16.99

Death Of A Ladies’ Man

By Alan Bissett

Price: $12.99

The Mathematics Of Love

By Emma Darwin

Price: $12.99

Allen & Unwin

Jasper Jones: A Novel

By Craig Silvey

List price: $23.99

Our price: $9.99

The Girl Savage

By Katherine Rundell

List price: $6.69

Our price: $5.29

The Slap

By Christos Tsiolkas

List price: $22.72

Our price: $8.90

Action

I hereby call on the ACCC to follow the lead of consumer watchdogs in the US and Europe and investigate Hachette Australia’s business practices – specifically anti-competitive pricing – in retailing to those in Australia. If you work for the ACCC and you’re reading this, don’t bother taking notes – it’s all coming in an email.

Via Jason Davis’ Book Bee site

 
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