16th Aug 2022

Apple faces EU probe over e-book pricing

  • Brussels is investigating price-fixing in the e-book trade (Photo: unten44)

The European Commission on Tuesday (6 December) said it is investigating possible collusion between Apple and five large publishing houses in the market for e-books, keeping prices artificially high.

It said the American electronics giant, whose popular iPad also serves as an e-book reader, may have helped the publishers - Hachette Livre (France), Harper Collins (USA), Simon & Schuster (USA), Penguin (UK) and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck (Germany) - to “engage in anti-competitive practices affecting the sale of e-books.”

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Distinct from competitor Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, which sets its own e-book prices, Apple’s iBookstore allows the publishers to set the prices, after which Apple takes a commission.

The commission is concerned that these so-called “agency agreements” may contravene European competition law and has opened formal anti-trust proceedings.

If found guilty, the companies may face maximum financial sanctions of up to 10 percent of global annual sales.

Apple has not yet made any comments. Pearson, owner of Penguin, said it did “not believe it has breached any laws, and will continue to fully and openly co-operate with the commission.”

Similar proceedings in the US have already led to litigation.

The e-book market is growing fast. Only last year, Amazon announced that sales of e-books in the US had overtaken those of paper books.

The European Federation of Publishers, an industry group based in Brussels, estimates that e-book sales will see "important growth" but that it will vary across EU countries depending on the publishing genres.

EU ebook sales are estimated at €350 million out of a global turnover of €23 billion.

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