Just as I’m poised to make a second leap into the publishing world, I am reading constantly about how that world is changing. Traditional publishers, e-book publishing, vanity publishers, and self-publishing are all terms being explored at writing conferences nationwide. Today it is highly possible for anyone to write a book and publish it, especially as an electronic book, which can be read on a number of wireless devices. So what am I to make of the story carried on the national news about a number of publishers and Apple who are accused of allegedly conspiring to fix prices on ebooks?
It is true that when I first bought my Kindle I was promised that I could buy all kinds of books for as low as $4.99- $9.99. So imagine my surprise, a few months later, to discover that prices on many of the new books were as high as $14.99. How did that happen and especially happen so quickly? Other people wearing suits and carrying briefcases to courtrooms were apparently wondering that also.
Two separate lawsuits alleging conspiracy have recently been filed. One suit, a class action suit joined by 16 state attorneys general, was filed earlier against Macmillan, Penguin Group, Simon and Schuster, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers, Hachette Book Group, and Apple.
A second suit was just filed April 11 in Manhattan by the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging that Hachette, Pearson, MacMillan, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, and Apple colluded to fix the price of ebooks just before Apple’s iPad came out in 2010.
Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster have reached a settlement with the DOJ which says they must allow retailers like Barnes and Noble or Amazon to reduce prices of ebooks they sell from these publishers. The publishers also agreed to pay some $51 million to ebook consumers as restitution. However, they will not be required to admit any federal law violation. Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin are still fighting the DOJ suit and plan to vigorously defend their policies.
Price and the profit margin appear to be the bottom line. According to John P. Mello, Jr., at PC World, publishers used a business model where retailers were called “agents;” this meant the publishers set the prices. They saw Amazon discounting books from other companies as a challenge to publishing prices and to the margin of profit they could make if readers expected these lower prices.
Now that the DOJ suit has been filed, the class action suit may become stronger and force a civil settlement (as mentioned in paidContent.org). In the long run, if either or both suits are found to have merit, they may result in lower ebook prices and some restitution to ebook buyers since 2009.
I wouldn’t mind having an extra dollar or two to help fill my gas tank! Now where did I put those receipts?