EU ready to settle with publishers over ebook price-fixing, but no talks yet

European Union antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia says that the Competition Commission is open to a settlement with publishers in the increasingly high-profile ebook price fixing case, but only if the companies address key regulatory issues. Almunia says regulators are coordinating with the Justice Department, which is also investigating the industry.

Apple's activities are still central to the investigation, with Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster's deals with the Cupertino, Calif. company being questioned. Like the US Justice Department investigation, Apple's efforts to restrict how ebooks are sold to competitors is a key issue.

While a Wall Street Journal report last week indicated that settlement talks between several publishers and the Justice Department were already underway, Almunia says none of the publishers had initiated discussions with the European Commission over the antitrust concerns. Regardless, the EC expects the parties to come to the table prepared to make concessions.

"This possibility of a settlement is only open in the case the publishers will be ready to remove all our objections", he is quoted as telling reporters. Almunia believes the issue is an important one due to the fast growth of the sector and the Commission's desire "to avoid collusive practices".

Publishers may find settling in their best interests. As reported on Friday, filings in a concurrent class-action lawsuit show that Apple already has admitted to at least two key allegations, and antitrust experts say Apple's actions do raise antitrust concerns, especially considered in context of Amazon's success in the marketplace.

"Amazon's success [in ebooks], which has been revolutionary, has definitively undermined the business models of the old publishers of hardback and paperback volumes", antitrust attorney William Markham of San Diego-based Maldonado & Markham tells BetaNews. "It directly threatens Apple’s core products and its ambition to sell e-books".

Photo Credit: Daniilantiq/Shutterstock

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