Amazon wins an e-book fight in Europe

European Union regulators ended an antitrust probe into e-book prices after Apple and other publishers offered to abandon the possibility of pricing agreements that would have hindered Amazon selling e-books more cheaply than their rivals.

Dominick Reuter/Reuters
Settlements on both sides of the Atlantic favored Amazon.

Chalk it up as another win for Amazon, this time on European shores, in an e-book antitrust investigation that has roiled publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.

European Union regulators ended an antitrust probe into e-book prices on Thursday after accepting an offer by Apple and four publishers to drop pricing agreements aimed at preventing Amazon from undercutting e-book prices.

The settlement marks a clear victory for Amazon, allowing it to sell e-books more cheaply than rivals. (We reported on the proposed deal last month.)

“The commitments proposed by Apple and the four publishers will restore normal competitive conditions in this new and fast-moving market, to the benefit of the buyers and readers of e-books,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said, according to Reuters.

Under the deal, Apple and four publishers – Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Hachette Livre, and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, owner of German company Macmillan – will abandon agency pricing, in which publishers set e-book pricing, and allow retailers to set e-book prices. According to settlement terms, retailers can cut e-book prices and offer discounts for a period of two years. And the publishers must suspend “most favored nation” contracts for five years. These contracts effectively barred publishers from selling e-books at prices lower than Apple’s. 

As a result of the deal, writes the UK’s Guardian, “Readers should prepare for plunging e-book prices.”

Pearson’s Penguin group, which is also under investigation in Europe, was not part of the settlement.

Thursday’s settlement marked “a key development in an investigation into the e-book industry that has involved both sides of the Atlantic,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. The European deal comes on the heels of a similar decision Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, and Hachette reached with the Department of Justice earlier this year. Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin continue to fight the DOJ suit in the U.S. The settlements on both sides of the Atlantic, both in favor of Amazon, will likely impact the ongoing suit.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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