Apple woes: E-book price-fixing? Plus Proview wants China iPad sales halted

A day after the iPad’s third coming, here’s a look at other Apple news:

• Did Apple and some U.S. book publishers conspire to raise e-book prices? The Justice Department has threatened the Cupertino company and five publishers with a lawsuit alleging collusion, according to the Wall Street Journal. The case involves the “agency pricing” model Apple and publishers have adopted: publishers set prices, Apple takes a 30 percent cut. The “Steve Jobs” biography addressed how the agency-pricing model came to be, at least as told by Jobs to Walter Isaacson. “We were not the first people in the books business,” Jobs said. “Given the situation that existed, what was best for us was to this aikido move and end up with the agency model. And we pulled it off.”

Jobs was of course referring to Amazon.com, which had been setting the prices of e-books after buying them from publishers — early adopters may remember that many titles cost $9.99. But Amazon was forced to adopt agency pricing not too long after publishers demanded it, something Jobs had predicted would happen, according to his biography. (See Amazon’s version of price-matching makes bestsellers costlier.) In this case, competition in an industry has had a negative effect on consumers. True, the move to agency pricing allowed other e-book sellers to compete with giant Amazon, as the Authors Guild pointed out last year. But e-books generally cost more now.

The possible U.S. government action — the WSJ said the parties have talked about settling — follows an investigation by the European Commission that was announced late last year. (See Probing Apple and the e-book ‘cartel’…) It involves the same five publishers the Justice Department is supposedly targeting: Hachette Livre, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and the German owner of Macmillan.

• The fight over the iPad name in China continues, with Proview Technology reportedly sending a letter to Chinese distributors today demanding that they stop selling Apple’s tablet. The Chinese company claims it owns the trademark for “iPad” in China; Apple maintains it bought the trademark from Proview. Proview has managed to get iPads pulled off store shelves in a couple of cities in China and has filed a lawsuit in the United States against Apple. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal writes that Apple’s trademark woes are getting more complicated: A group of Chinese banks is saying it owns the rights to the iPad name in China because it supposedly had control over Proview’s assets before the company made a deal with Apple in 2009.

 

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