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EU wants ebook publishers to settle arguments

Unlikely to throw a book at anyone
Tue Mar 13 2012, 11:47

THE EUROPEAN UNION (EU) competition commissioner wants to reach a settlement with publishers over ebook pricing, and despite having plenty of options he is not keen on throwing the book at them.

European regulators have been talking with publishers including News Corp and Lagardere's Hachette Livre about whether there are book pricing agreements in place, to the detriment of sellers like Amazon.

Amazon opposes the model, saying it is harmful to all parts of the publishing business. "This group of publishers will require Amazon and other UK booksellers to accept an agency model for e-books. We believe they will raise prices on e-books for consumers almost across the board," it says in a post that names Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster.

"For a number of reasons, we think this is a damaging approach for readers, authors, booksellers and publishers alike... Based on our experience as a bookseller setting consumer prices for many years, we know that these increases have not only frustrated readers, but have caused booksellers, publishers and authors alike to lose sales."

Steve Jobs, who spoke to publishers about ebook pricing on the Ipad, was a defender of the agency pricing model, and according to his biography he thought that it would help publishers as much as it would help Apple. 

"We told the publishers, 'We'll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30 per cent, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that's what you want anyway," he is quoted as saying in Walter Isaacson's biography.

These agreements based on the agency model have also attracted the attention of regulators in the US, and in Europe the EU Commissioner for Competition Joaquin Almunia told reporters yesterday that if the publishers agree to some concessions then things will go no further.

"This possibility of a settlement is only open in the case the publishers will be ready to remove all our objections," he said, according to Reuters. If they do not, they could face fines of up to 10 per cent of their global sales.

There are five firms including Apple named in the similar case in the US. When we approached all of them asking for comment about the case and the agency model complaints they all declined the opportunity. µ


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