The U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney Gen. Eric Holder just announced (via CNN) a settlement with three publishers—Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster— following this morning’s report that it would launch an antitrust suit against Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin, which refused to settle. The settlement is said to give publishers the “freedom to reduce the prices of their e-book titles,” allowing Amazon to return to its previous wholesale model.
The states are seeking $51 million in restitution that will be provided through a credit towards a future book purchase or a check, although the Department of Justice’s charges remain civil. The exact details of the settlements with the three publishers were not discussed, but Apple, Penguin, and Macmillan will continue to fight charges in the lawsuit filed earlier today in New York.
As for exactly why Apple and the two other publishers have decided to take the case to court, at least one publisher is speaking. Macmillan’s Chief Executive Officer John Sargent published an open letter today explaining the company’s stance (via PaidContent). In the letter, Sargent claimed the Department of Justice’s settlement demands “could have allowed Amazon to recover the monopoly position it had built before our switch to the agency model.” He also said it is “hard to settle a lawsuit when you know you have done no wrong” and called the agency model the future of an “open and competitive market.”
In addition to considering competitive entry at that time, though, Apple also contemplated illegally dividing the digital content world with Amazon, allowing each to “own the category” of its choice—audio/video to Apple and e-books to Amazon.
Go past the break for Sargent’s full letter, which is a great rundown of the case from the perspective of the publishers that have decided not to settle:
A Message from John Sargent
Dear authors, illustrators and agents:
Today the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Macmillan’s US trade publishing operation, charging us with collusion in the implementation of the agency model for e-book pricing. The charge is civil, not criminal. Let me start by saying that Macmillan did not act illegally. Macmillan did not collude.
We have been in discussions with the Department of Justice for months. It is always better if possible to settle these matters before a case is brought. The costs of continuing—in time, distraction, and expense— are truly daunting.
But the terms the DOJ demanded were too onerous. After careful consideration, we came to the conclusion that the terms could have allowed Amazon to recover the monopoly position it had been building before our switch to the agency model. We also felt the settlement the DOJ wanted to impose would have a very negative and long term impact on those who sell books for a living, from the largest chain stores to the smallest independents.
When Macmillan changed to the agency model we did so knowing we would make less money on our e book business. We made the change to support an open and competitive market for the future, and it worked. We still believe in that future and we still believe the agency model is the only way to get there.
It is also hard to settle a lawsuit when you know you have done no wrong. The government’s charge is that Macmillan’s CEO colluded with other CEO’s in changing to the agency model. I am Macmillan’s CEO and I made the decision to move Macmillan to the agency model. After days of thought and worry, I made the decision on January 22nd, 2010 a little after 4:00 AM, on an exercise bike in my basement. It remains the loneliest decision I have ever made, and I see no reason to go back on it now.
Other publishers have chosen to settle. That is their decision to make. We have decided to fight this in court. Because others have settled, there may well be a preponderance of references to Macmillan, and to me personally, in the Justice Department’s papers – often without regard to context. So be it.
I hope you will agree with our stance, and with Scott Turow, the president of the Author’s Guild, who stated, “The irony of this bites hard: our government may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition. This would be tragic for all of us who value books and the culture they support”.
Since we are now in litigation, I may not be able to comment much going forward. We remain dedicated to finding the best long term outcome for the book business, for Macmillan and for the work you have entrusted to our care.