E-book prices are likely to fall after the US federal court approved a settlement between the US Department of Justice and three of the world’s biggest publishers charged with price collusion.
But inevitably many see the settlement as a double-edged sword fearing that it will endanger smaller booksellers.
Three publishers, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, agreed in April to settle with the government whilst still denying they had done anything wrong.
Penguin Group USA, Macmillan and Apple, who were also part of the action, refused to settle and will be facing trial in summer next year.
The three publishers which have settled will have a week to end their contracts with Apple and with any retailers that had been prevented, under the terms of their contracts, from competitively pricing books.
In her ruling last week, Manhattan federal court judge Denise Cole said that it was a “straightforward, horizontal price-fixing conspiracy.”
Amazon has promised to act quickly to drop its prices, most probably to $US9.99 for newly released and best-sellers. It is expected that the larger retailers like Barnes & Noble will respond.
But Paul Aitken, executive director of the Authors Guild was quoted in the New York Times as saying that independent bookstores will be the big losers unable to compete with the buying power of companies like Amazon.
The government brought the action against the publishers in 2010 because of what it says was the alleged coordination of book prices.
For book lovers it is a real dilemma. E-books are convenient and even at the pre-settlement prices, cheaper than buying the heritage variety (i.e. books).
However, anything that endangers the existence of bookshops, particularly those like my local ones where the staff is knowledgeable and offers expert advice and opinion as well as a wonderful atmosphere in which to browse, is sad.