Reuters is reporting this morning that Apple and several publishers are in talks with the European Commission. The conspirators are reportedly trying to stave off a criminal prosecution (and the attending fines).There's no public info on the parties involved but according to sources the publishers are Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette Livre and Holtzbrinck.
There aren't any specific details on the settlement, but it would reportedly involve releasing Amazon and other ebookstores from ebooks price controls for two years. As much as that might dismay some in publishing, I'm sure the conspirators would prefer this option to the fines, which could reach as high as 10% of their global revenue.
Is it just me or does it appear that Apple and a number of publishers broke the law? I didn't want to jump to conclusions, but it would seem that we wouldn't have all these settlements without some serious rule breaking involved.
Several publishers have settled a US antitrust lawsuit while Apple and 2 others are going to trial, and that makes me wonder if this Reuters report is true. I tend to think it is; when it comes to corporate governance Europe has harsher laws than the US and the rumored penalties would best be described as painful.
On the other hand, given the current state of European book pricing laws I'm not sure how much of an effect this settlement will have. Quite a few countries in the EU have fixed price book laws (Germany, France, Spain and more) so even if Amazon is allowed to discount ebooks under a new contract with publishers they would be blocked from doing so in most of the national markets.
In fact, given the current laws in Europe I really don't see the point of an anti-trust conspiracy. Publishers already had laws on the books which gave them what they wanted: a way to stop Amazon from discounting ebooks.
Then again, I thought that the publishers and Apple would never be able to get away with the US conspiracy, and yet they tried it anyway. Perhaps they're not as smart as I thought.