Apple’s e-book trial: What it means for consumers


Apple introduced the iBooks store along with the iPad in 2010. Above, a customer holds a later generation of the iPad outside the company's George Street store in Sydney, Australia, on Friday, March 16, 2012. (Ian Waldie/BLOOMBERG)
July 10, 2013

Now that a judge has found that Apple conspired with publishers to raise the price of e-books — which Apple denies — you may be wondering what this ruling means for the future of your wallet.

The short answer: probably not much, for now.

That’s because the firms that controlled e-book pricing under the Apple model that U.S. District Judge Denise Cote ruled was a conspiracy Wednesday have already settled with the government. And prices for e-books have been dropping as a result, as publishers negotiate new contracts that allow retailers to discount the prices of some books.

Assistant Attorney General William Baer mentioned the changes in a statement after the ruling, saying, “Through today’s court decision and previous settlements with five major publishers, consumers are again benefitting from retail price competition and paying less for their e-books.”

HarperCollins was one of three book publishers to settle charges with the Justice Department when the case was first filed in April, and prices for its books on Amazon began dropping in September. According to a chart tracking e-book prices through April on Digital Book World — a Web site that covers the e-book industry — prices dropped again when other publishers, including Macmillan, Hachette and Simon & Schuster, began allowing retailers such as Amazon to apply their own discounts to books.

In the long term, Apple has argued that this ruling could hurt companies trying to negotiate contracts for multimedia content such as books, movies and music, because firms will be reluctant to share information on their deals with other companies.

But David Balto, a former policy director for the Federal Trade Commission, said in a Wednesday interview with The Washington Post that the ruling will actually increase competition by making it clear that Apple’s actions were not acceptable under antitrust law.

“What we want is vibrant Internet commerce competition,” Balto said. “If they were able to do this in books, they were able to do this in other markets.”

Related stories:

Apple conspired to raise e-book prices, federal judge rules

Apple e-book antitrust trial to wrap up Thursday

Apple antitrust trial ends; ruling could be broad

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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