The European Commission is inviting comments from interested parties on the commitments offered by Apple and four publishers, aimed at settling an antitrust investigation into the sale of e-books.
Alongside Apple, the four publishers involved are: Simon & Schuster (USA), Harper Collins (USA), Hachette Livre (France) and Verslagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck (Germany).
The Commission considers that these companies may have breached EU antitrust rules by jointly switching the sale of e-books from a wholesale model to an agency model which allowed the publishers to set the price, and e-book store owners (such as Apple) to receive part of the revenue. The move to this mechanism, which included the so-called Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clauses, allows more control by the publishers over the retail prices and may lead to collusion between competing publishers to raise (with the help of Apple) retail e-book prices.
In the proposed commitments, the companies offer to terminate the existing agency agreements and refrain from adopting price MFN clauses for five years. In case any of them might enter into a new agency agreement, retailers will be free to set the retail price of e-books for two years, provided the aggregate value of price discounts granted by retailers does not exceed the total annual amount of the commissions that the retailer receives from the publisher.
The EU’s market test will run for a month. If it shows that the commitments are a satisfactory solution to the Commission’s concerns, it may adopt a decision to make them legally binding.