The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday brought a lawsuit against Apple and several publishing companies over a scheme to fix e-book prices.
The suit stems from the 2010 release of the iPad, when Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) reached an agreement with five publishers to release books on its then-new iBookstore.
The DOJ said Apple colluded to raise the price of e-books with CBS’s (CBS, Fortune 500) Simon & Schuster, News Corp.’s (NWS) HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, Pearson’s (PSO) Penguin unit and Macmillan.
European authorities are also probing Apple and the publishers for similar antitrust violations. Attorneys general for Connecticut and Texas led a handful of other states in separate litigation against the companies as well.
Before the release of the iPad, Amazon’s (AMZN, Fortune 500) Kindle was the preeminent e-book reader on the market.
Amazon forced publishers to sell most books at $9.99 — a price that came in below the cost of the books.
According to the DOJ, booksellers were unnerved by the discounted e-book price structure Amazon launched in 2007. The publishers went to Apple in late 2009 to find a way to force Amazon to raise its prices. The iPad proved to be the perfect tool to accomplish that.
The alleged conspiracy placed many books at so-called “agency pricing,” putting them on the market for about $12.99 and giving Apple a 30% cut. About three days later, Amazon allowed publishers to set their own prices, resulting in higher prices on the Kindle as well.
“This action drove up e-book prices almost overnight,” said Sharis Pozen, head of the DOJ’s antitrust division, at a news conference. “Let me be clear: When companies enter agreements that prevent price competition, that is illegal.”
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