Apple iBook store among six companies in EC e-book probe


Apple iBook store among six companies in EC e-book probe

Warwick Ashford

Europe’s competition authorities are to investigate Apple and five publishers for alleged anti-competitive practices in the e-book market.

The investigation will focus on agreements that the companies made with agencies that allegedly restrict competition in the European Union and breach rules on cartels.

The investigation follows allegations that Apple is colluding with publishers on the price of e-books, enabling publishers to set the prices at which books are sold on the internet and for Apple's iBook store to take an agency commission.

The so-called “agency model” is contrary to the free market model used by Amazon, where the retailer buys in bulk and can sell for any price it wants, and potentially contravenes EU competition laws, according to The Telegraph.

But many publishers argue that the agency model is essential to ensure competition because retailers such as Amazon are so powerful.

The UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which carried out a similar inquiry earlier this year, is working closely with the new investigation, which is extending the inquiry across the whole of Europe, according to the BBC.

"Following a significant number of complaints, the OFT has opened an investigation into whether arrangements that certain publishers have put in place with some retailers for the sale of e-books may breach competition rules," the regulator said in a statement in February.

In March, European authorities carried out "unannounced inspections" on the companies, which include Apple's iBook store, Hachette Livre, Penguin, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck.

European competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said last month that he wanted to fight artificial restrictions imposed by some companies to cross-border trade that are “particularly important in the digital area, where I have already started to look at the distribution practices of certain products such as e-books”.

A similar investigation is being conducted in the US.

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