December 4, 2015

Leading booksellers and authors’ groups join together to file pro-Apple petition with Supreme Court


DOJ-Apple-image-320x214New developments in the court case that never ends: As reported in this Shelf Awareness story, the American Booksellers Association (ABA), Authors United (AU), Barnes & Noble and the Authors Guild (AG) joined together to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court yesterday, urging the court to review the ruling of Judge Denise Cote against Apple, charging the company with price-fixing in violation of antitrust laws. Cote’s decision was upheld by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in November of this year.

The original ruling found Apple guilty of violating anti-trust regulations by colluding with five of the then-Big Six publishers(Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon and Schuster, and MacMillan) to fix prices via agency pricing—a pricing scheme whereby publishers could set a fixed price of their own ebooks. (For further background on the Department of Justice case against Apple, check previous MobyLives posts on the matter, here, here, here, and here.)

The petition by the ABA and company, which was filed in November (and outlined in this recent MobyLives post) makes the case that Amazon’s predatory eBook pricing of $9.99 (or lower) was itself a violation of anti-trust, pro-competition regulations, and that agency pricing was simply the most effective method of reintroducing competition to a market where Amazon controlled 90% of ebook sales.

This new brief now brings both retailers and author-advocacy groups into the fray. As the Authors Guild put it in its press release, the amicus brief …

… bolsters ongoing advocacy efforts by the Authors Guild and Authors United and asks the Supreme Court to review a decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in U.S. v. Apple, which found that Apple violated antitrust law by coordinating with major U.S. book publishers to influence the price of e-books. In the brief, the author and book industry groups argued that the government’s focus on Apple’s allegedly anti-competitive activities was misplaced, because Apple’s conduct, in fact, enhanced competition by increasing e-book output, the number of e-book titles, and the number of e-book distributors, which led to technological improvements in the e-book market and enhanced freedom of expression and access to e-books.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Oren Teicher, CEO of the ABA, who emphasized “the importance of competition, a robust and diverse environment for authors and readers, and a healthy marketplace of ideas.” By both the ABA’s and Authors Guild’s accounts, Apple’s activities were ultimately good for the market, and were therefore acting in the spirit of anti-trust law, not against it.


Simon Reichley is assistant to the publishers and office manager at Melville House.