Apple Antitrust Suit would aid Amazon

imageAre Apple Inc (AAPL) and the big trade publishers colluding to manipulate the market in electronic books? The U.S. Justice Department seems to think so, and is said to be near filing an antitrust lawsuit. Let’s hope it doesn’t: Putting an end to the deal Apple and the publishers have reached on selling e-books would be grim news for authors and readers alike.

The Justice Department has been investigating whether the publishers colluded in adopting, for the sale of e-books, the same “agency model” pioneered by Apple in selling iTunes. Under that setup, Apple acts as the publishers’ sales agent, taking a cut (usually 30 percent) and leaving it to publishers to set the prices of the e-books they publish.
I have no way of knowing whether the publishers colluded. My friends in publishing insist that price was never part of the discussions, but the prosecutors seem to think they have a compelling case. All I can say as an author — and as president of the , the nation’s largest membership organization of professional book writers — is that if the government wants to intervene in the literary marketplace, I hope it will consider the complex ecology of bookselling in the U.S. Because if we reinstate the status quo before Apple’s agency-model breakthrough, then bookstores and publishers are going to be the first casualties. Right behind them will be readers, who will see the diversity of titles and authors diminish while leading titles get more expensive.