Amazon to be handed victory in EU eBook price-fixing probe

EU regulators seem likely to end a probe into eBook price-fixing by accepting a settlement proposed by Apple and four publishers, according to Reuters.

The news agency reports that Apple and the publishers' offer gives in to an Amazon-led attempt to allow retailers to sell eBooks at whatever price they please.

The proposed settlement would allow publishers to offer discounts on eBooks for a period of two years via the wholesale model. Meanwhile, Apple would reportedly give up its "most favoured nation" clause for five years. Through the clause, which is widely considered a price-fixing scheme, publishers offer Apple the best price on eBooks, while preventing other retailers, like Amazon, from offering promotional discounts.

"It's certainly another win for Amazon. I have not seen the terms of the final settlement, but I think it places restrictions on what publishers can do, slowing them down just when they need to be more nimble," Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, an eBook publisher and distributor that works with Apple, told Reuters.

"Faced with years of court battles and uncertainty I can understand why some of these guys decided to fold their cards and take the whipping," he added.

Although the spokesman at the EU Commission said its investigation, which kicked off in December of last year, was still ongoing, anonymous sources told Reuters that "the Commission is likely to accept the offer" and will likely announce its decision next month.

"We have launched a market test in September and our investigation is still ongoing," said Antoine Colombani, spokesman for competition policy at the European Commission.

The EU is not the only authority investigating eBook prices. Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice probed publishers HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette, who consequently settled. Apple, Penguin Group and Macmillan have not reached an agreement.

UBS analysts estimate that eBooks account for about 30 per cent of the US book market and 20 per cent of sales in Britain but are minuscule elsewhere.

Image Credit: Flickr (Emily Carlin)