People try out the Kobo Inc. Kobo Touch e-readerin Tokyo this month. (Kiyoshi Ota/BLOOMBERG)

In comments filed to U.S. District Court in New York, Justice wrote that critics of the agency’s enforcement action have “an interest in seeing consumers pay more for e-books, and hobbling retailers that might want to sell e-books at lower prices.”

Three defendants in the federal investigation — Hachette Bok Group, HarperCollins Publishers and Simon & Schuster — have agreed to settlement talks with U.S. officials over the price-fixing charges.

But Apple and publishers MacMillan and Penguin have vowed to fight the charges in the district court. The trial is set for June 2013.

In its comments, Justice appeared undeterred by growing criticism that by taking on Amazon’s competitors, U.S. officials may have inadvertently helped the Web retail giant dominate the e-books market with its Kindle titles. The agency rejected that idea, saying Apple didn’t appear to be taking away Amazon’s market share, anyway.

“But the reality is that, despite its conspiratorial efforts, Apple’s entry into the e-book market was not immediately successful,” Justice wrote in its filing. “It was, in fact, Barnes & Noble’s entry — prior to Apple — that took significant share away from Amazon; and many of the touted innovations were in development long before Apple decided to enter the market via conspiracy.”

Barnes & Noble have criticized Justice’s action, as have some authors groups. But consumer interest groups say the companies appeared to break the law by agreeing to a price-fixing scheme that in the long run would push up prices and and give users fewer choices.


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