images10The Atlantic reports on a new 20-page legal brief objecting to the terms of the Department of Justice settlement, filed by nine major independent publishers: Abrams Books, Chronicle Books, Grove/Atlantic Inc. Chicago Review Press, Inc, New Directions Publishing Corp., W.W. Norton & Company, Perseus Books Group, the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, and Workman Publishing.

These publishers object to the settlement on similar grounds to everyone else who has objected—it will allow Amazon to prosper at the expense of publishers, and is thus contrary to the public interest. The publishers complain that the DoJ never talked to independent publishers to find out how they would be affected by such a settlement, and that the DoJ simply does not understand either the independent publishers or indeed “the publishing industry as a whole.” (Publishers Weekly also has coverage.)

As far as I know, none of these indie publishers have ever been able to use agency pricing in their dealings with Amazon—Amazon only gave that power to the Agency Five, and that only because they insisted. I imagine that they have hopes of one day being able to require Amazon to use that pricing model with their own works—but for that to happen, it has to keep being used by other publishers so Amazon doesn’t use its own prices to undercut the competition.


  1. Agency pricing protects competition and consumers. It is an antidote that enables independent publishing to continue.

    “[S]elling frontlist e-books at below cost to discourage and destroy competition… helped Amazon capture a commanding 90% of the U.S. e-book market. Agency pricing, which the Justice Department believes was introduced through collusion, has allowed Amazon’s competitors to gain a foothold, driving Amazon’s market share down to 60% in two years.”

  2. To over-simplify…the A5 and now these newbies total argument seems to be that agency pricing should be legal because they hate Amazon and agency pricing will hurt Amazon’s e-book business.

    Sounds like nothing but sour grapes. Amazon jumped into the e-book business, made it work so well it woke up the industry and now they’re all p*ssed that they didn’t do it first.

  3. Actually, agency pricing is how apps are sold for iOS and OS X. It’s not illegal and certainly doesn’t lead to higher prices, as anyone who’s visited either store can see. If anything, it leads to more competition and is ideal for retail situations where the online store is little more than a posting locale for products by others. You can compare it to stores that sell art, antiques or clothing on consignment.

    What it does is put pricing in the hands of the seller, who can quickly adjust the price up and down. I regularly get (already cheap) $4.99 apps for my iPhone for $0.99 because the developer wants to draw attention to his product to boost sales. Those price cuts happen because the developer (for ebooks, the author) cares about his individual product. Apple would never pay that much attention in individual, non-Apple products. Neither would Amazon.

    The result is a sort of intricate dance between sellers and buyers that spirals toward a price that best makes both happy. The developer (author) gets enough income to support himself. The buyer gets a low enough price to make him happy, while keeping future upgrades (sequels) coming. Amazon fanboys tend to want prices so low, authors starve. That’s stupid, really stupid. Particularly when it means Amazon is the one setting the prices.

    It’s not surprising that, other than Amazon fanboys, no one who has anything to do with ebooks is happy with what the DOJ is doing. It’s baked into how this prosecution began.

    Putting the best possible interpretation on events, the DOJ went off half-cocked because its only major source of information was a Seattle law firm Hagens Berman and their August, 2011 class action lawsuit against Apple and five major publishers. You can read Hagen Berman’s own description of their lawsuit here and compare it to what the DOJ is doing. The DOJ lawyers come across as doing little more than playing Monkey See, Monkey Do.

    Now for the killer fact. You can check it out for yourself on Google Maps. Hagens Berman’s headquarters is in Seattle and only about half a mile from Amazon’s global headquarters. To claim that the two weren’t colluding on either the original lawsuit or on HB’s efforts to influence the DOJ almost beggars the imagination.

    I assume this link will show you Hagens Berman offices as an “A” marker.,+seattle,+wa&aq=&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=42.495706,75.498047&vpsrc=6&t=h&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=1918+8th+Ave,+Seattle,+Washington+98101&ll=47.620484,-122.337999&spn=0.017732,0.036864&z=15

    Zoom in on that Google map and you’ll find from Google annotations that Amazon’s offices are due north of Hagens Berman starting at Thomas Street, just four blocks north of Hagens Berman.

    If Amazon wanted to ‘conspire’ via Hagen Berman to get the DOJ to carry water for them in their battle against Apple and the Big Six, the executives of each would have had only a few minutes walk to the offices of the others. I’m really surprised no one in the media seems to have picked up on this.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail