Apple and five American publishers, accused for rising prices of electronic books

US Department of Justice warned Apple Inc. and five of the largest publishers in the United States that it intends to sue for an alleged agreement to increase the price of electronic books, according to sources close to the subject, quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

Apple persuaded the publishers to change the way electronic books set price before the company’s former chief, the late Steve Jobs introducing the iPad in 2010. Some of the parties is now in discussions to reach agreement in the present case and avoid antitrust trial that would harm, say sources quoted by the Wall Street Journal. If it is completed, such an arrangement will have important implications for the industry, could lead to cheaper books consumer electronics. Not all publishers also participate in discussions.

The five giant publishing are: Hachette Book Group (Lagardere group), Simon & Schuster (part of the CBS news), Penguin Group USA (concern of Pearson), HarperCollins Publishers (a unit of News Corp., which owns and Wall Street Journal) and Macmillan (unit of the company Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck)

Publishing spokesmen have declined to comment, like Apple, which introduced on March 7 a new version of iPad tablet.

The case is centered around Apple’s decision to change how e-book publishers set the price, while the introduction of the first iPad ready in early 2010. Traditionally, publishers sell books to retailers cover half the recommended price.

Book vendors were then free to offer customers books at a price lower than the cover, if they wanted it. Most printed books sold by this model.

For publishers, e-books is the business segment with the fastest growth in a time when sales of printed books are in decline. E-book sales have doubled to 970 million dollars in 2011, according to a survey by the Association of American Publishers. As more and more consumers turning to electronic readers, it is expected that the number of those who prefer reading such increase.

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