Apple and five of the “Big Six” trade publishers are reportedly under investigation by the Department of Justice for antitrust violations. The point of concern is the five publishers’ staggered but identical move to an agency rather than a wholesale pricing model, not just for Apple, but for all e-book retailers — a move that caused e-book prices for consumers to rise.
But the DoJ’s investigation and a related civil lawsuit touch on issues bigger than rising e-book prices or even collusion between publishers. The cases are also about who has the right to sue e-book publishers, the nature of publishers’ bilateral interactions with Apple and other retailers, and whether it’s even possible for a true agency model to exist for virtual goods like e-books.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Catan, Justice Department antitrust official Sharis Pozen outlines the framework guiding the agency’s investigation. The real issue, Pozen says, isn’t the agency model, but secret agreements between competitors.
“We don’t pick business models — that’s not our job,” Pozen told the WSJ. “But when you see collusive behavior at the highest levels of companies, you know something’s wrong. And you’ve got to do something about it.”
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