The Department of Justice announced Tuesday it has reached a settlement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc. and will continue to litigate against Apple and Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC, for conspiring to raise e-book prices to consumers.
The proposed settlement was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. If approved by the court, the settlement will resolve the department's competitive concerns as to Penguin, ending Penguin's role as a defendant in the civil antitrust lawsuit filed by the department on April 11, 2012.
The department's Antitrust Division previously settled its claims against three book publishers - Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers L.L.C. and Simon & Schuster Inc. The department said that the publishers eliminated retail price competition, resulting in consumers paying millions of dollars more for their e-books. The settlement with those three publishers was approved by the court in September 2012. A trial against Macmillan and Apple currently is scheduled to begin in June 2013.
According to the complaint, the five publishers and Apple were unhappy that competition among e-book sellers had reduced e-book prices and the retail profit margins of the book sellers to levels they thought were too low. To address these concerns, the department said the companies worked together to enter into contracts that eliminated price competition among bookstores selling e-books, substantially increasing prices paid by consumers. Before the companies began their conspiracy, retailers regularly sold e-book versions of new releases and bestsellers for, as described by one of the publisher?s CEO, the "wretched $9.99 price point." As a result of the conspiracy, consumers were typically forced to pay $12.99, $14.99, or more for the most sought-after e-books, the department said.
Under the proposed settlement agreement, Penguin will terminate its agreements with Apple and other e-books retailers and will be prohibited for two years from entering into new agreements that constrain retailers' ability to offer discounts or other promotions to consumers to encourage the sale of the Penguin's e-books. The proposed settlement agreement also will impose a strong antitrust compliance program on Penguin, which will include a requirement that it provide advance notification to the department of any e-book ventures it plans to undertake jointly with other publishers and that it regularly report to the department on any communications it has with other publishers. Also for five years, Penguin will be forbidden from agreeing to any kind of most favored nation (MFN) agreement that could undermine the effectiveness of the settlement.
Last week, the European Union's competition watchdog accepted proposals by four publishers and Apple to end agreements that set retail prices for e-books. The agreement was legally binding on Hachette Livre; Harper Collins; Simon & Schuster; and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, which owns Macmillan. That deal was also binding on Penguin.