Apple and four publishers seek EC deal; Penguin does not

Five of the companies under investigation in Europe over e-book pricing have made representations to the European Commission in order to bring the investigation to a resolution.

Apple and four publishers, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette Livre and Holtzbrinck, are ready to make a deal. Penguin has not offered a deal, appearing to be sticking to the stance it has taken in the US by refusing to agree to any kind of settlement.

The development comes just hours after the US Department of Justice announced that it was suing five US publishers, and Apple, over an alleged conspiracy to fix e-book prices. Three of those publishers -- S&S, Hachette, and HarperCollins -- announced they had reached agreements with the DoJ that will see them terminate their agency deals with Apple, and refrain for two years from placing constraints on retailers' ability to offer discounts. However, Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin are fighting the DoJ.

In an emailed statement, Joaquin Almunia, vice president of the commission in charge of competition policy, said: "I welcome the fact that these five companies are making proposals to reach an early resolution of the case, so promptly after we opened proceedings in December 2011. We are currently engaged in fruitful discussions with them, without prejudice to the outcome of these talks. We will assess any final proposals of commitments and we will test them with third parties in order to check whether they are sufficient to preserve competition for the benefit of consumers in this fast-growing market."

Almunia said the EC had benefited from a "very close and productive co-operation" with the DoJ. It is not clear what information was exchanged, but the DoJ's filing references a number of emails originally written in France. The EC raided a number of French publishers in March last year.

It is also not clear why Apple and Macmillan appear to be happy to settle in Europe, but not in the US. In his statement released about the DoJ filing, Penguin chief executive John Makinson made clear his view, saying that Penguin "alone among the publishers party to the investigations" had held no settlement discussions with the DOJ or the US states. He said this was principally because "we have done nothing wrong. The decisions that we took, many them of them costly and difficult, were taken by Penguin alone." Penguin has said previously that it was "co-operating fully with the investigation".