News

US law firms target Apple and US publishers over e-books

Several US law firms have now filed lawsuits against Apple and major US publishers alleging what one described as a "horizontal conspiracy" to fix and increase the price of e-books in the US. One firm has also now moved for the lawsuits to be heard under one judge either in California, where two of the suits have been registered, or Manhattan, where three have been filed.

The suits were filed on or around 10th and 11th August, and follow closely the arguments laid before a San Francisco federal court by the US law firm Hagens Berman, which named Apple, along with Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, over the agency model of e-book pricing.

The Washington-based law firm Finkelstein Thompson also names Random House among those publishers it accuses of implementing price-fixing agreements contemporaneously with Apple's introduction of the iPad in April 2010, while the other suits also list Barnes & Noble and Amazon as among the defendants.

According to the On The Case blog, there are now five separate actions pending in US courts in New York and California. As with Finkelstein law firm Lovell Steward Halebian Jacobson filed an action in a Manhattan federal court and also names Random House US as a defendant. On The Case also points to a third Manhattan federal e-books class action filed by Grant & Eisenhofer and Criden & Love, which features additional defendants—Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A fifth suit has also commenced in California filed by law firms Ram, Olson, Cereghino & Kopzynski and Spector Roseman Kodroff & Willis.

According to its own press statement Finkelstein Thompson has also moved the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to consolidate all similar class actions filed in other courts before Judge Daniels. According to On The Case, Berman of Hagens Berman is "bristling" to retain control over the e-book antitrust litigation. "I'm going to say that these guys are all copycats and don't deserve to be the lead," Berman told the legal blog.

Publishers Marketplace notes drily: "All told, the timing and similarity of these filings more strongly suggests a conspiracy among lawyers than there ever was among publishers."
 

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Ridiculous. Anyone who has worked with Apple knows that their pricing matrix doesn't allow for this to even happen. If your physical book = $x, your ebook pricing must be less than or equal to y. They set their own pricing policy and publishers have to accept it if they want to sell via iTunes. It's their store, they can do what they want - fair enough. Random House would love to have the power over Apple to be in cahoots to price fix - they don't, no matter how big they are in our publishing world - compared to music, movies, apps and games, books simply don't make enough money on iTunes to bother with this.

The even more hilarious factor is that based on those other product verticals, Apple blatantly will want the price of eBooks to drop, not rise, so more people buy them. Let's be honest, if you pay $14.99 for a reflowable epub on your iPad and pay $2.99 for a full video game or movie, which product do you feel is giving you better value? Even if the book is incredible, the product itself doesn't have nearly the same level of production value and doesn't justify the high price (I just read a horrifically edited and badly written Lee Child book - that's 2 days of my life I won't get back - which was riddled with typos and typesetting errors - when that's all you have to worry about, bar the cover, it's pretty unacceptable). Sad but true I'm afraid. And we're certainly not seeing that sales of enhanced products are outstripping basic epubs. 2 issues here - 1. ePub is crap and the format needs to be improved super-fast 2. Frontlist eBooks are unfortunately too expensive therefore this case is pointless, irrelevant and flawed.

Reality check: typos and typesetting errors do not in themselves imply that ePub as a format is crap.

What is crap are automated conversion procedures and a lack of quality control on the part of publishers. And as long as publishers treat eBooks as a bolt-on afterthought to be carried out for next to nothing, then this problem will continue.

At BBR we give ePub production the same care and attention we give to printed book production -- anything less is disrespectful to our clients' readers. We're not cheap, but it means our products don't look cheap either!

Chris, it's generally not an issue of attitude - 'afterthoughts' etc - it's about resources. Trying to convert decades worth of backlist very quickly, often from obsolete or non-digital formats, is tricky. Really every book would require a full proofread, but that's slow and expensive and basically impractical if you have a big list. I think a lot of publishers are trying to balance the consumers' hunger for backlist ebooks with the quality control issues.

Fair enough, but more care and attention on the part of the publisher might have made Bookatron a repeat buyer. Instead they've been alienated and angered. Furthermore, I don't see anything in your argument to convince Bookatron to give ePub another try.

Every time someone like Bookatron has an experience like that, it's a tiny Ratner moment for the industry.

Sorry, but that to me is definitely an 'attitude' problem on the part of the publisher.

Oh, I agree that if frontlist titles are going out with typos in them, that's unacceptable. On backlist, well, I know it's not going to fly to ask the consumer to cut us a bit of slack, but it's just not reasonable to expect 100% perfection and 100% availability at the same time.

Ridiculous. Anyone who has worked with Apple knows that their pricing matrix doesn't allow for this to even happen. If your physical book = $x, your ebook pricing must be less than or equal to y. They set their own pricing policy and publishers have to accept it if they want to sell via iTunes. It's their store, they can do what they want - fair enough. Random House would love to have the power over Apple to be in cahoots to price fix - they don't, no matter how big they are in our publishing world - compared to music, movies, apps and games, books simply don't make enough money on iTunes to bother with this.

The even more hilarious factor is that based on those other product verticals, Apple blatantly will want the price of eBooks to drop, not rise, so more people buy them. Let's be honest, if you pay $14.99 for a reflowable epub on your iPad and pay $2.99 for a full video game or movie, which product do you feel is giving you better value? Even if the book is incredible, the product itself doesn't have nearly the same level of production value and doesn't justify the high price (I just read a horrifically edited and badly written Lee Child book - that's 2 days of my life I won't get back - which was riddled with typos and typesetting errors - when that's all you have to worry about, bar the cover, it's pretty unacceptable). Sad but true I'm afraid. And we're certainly not seeing that sales of enhanced products are outstripping basic epubs. 2 issues here - 1. ePub is crap and the format needs to be improved super-fast 2. Frontlist eBooks are unfortunately too expensive therefore this case is pointless, irrelevant and flawed.

Reality check: typos and typesetting errors do not in themselves imply that ePub as a format is crap.

What is crap are automated conversion procedures and a lack of quality control on the part of publishers. And as long as publishers treat eBooks as a bolt-on afterthought to be carried out for next to nothing, then this problem will continue.

At BBR we give ePub production the same care and attention we give to printed book production -- anything less is disrespectful to our clients' readers. We're not cheap, but it means our products don't look cheap either!

Chris, it's generally not an issue of attitude - 'afterthoughts' etc - it's about resources. Trying to convert decades worth of backlist very quickly, often from obsolete or non-digital formats, is tricky. Really every book would require a full proofread, but that's slow and expensive and basically impractical if you have a big list. I think a lot of publishers are trying to balance the consumers' hunger for backlist ebooks with the quality control issues.

Fair enough, but more care and attention on the part of the publisher might have made Bookatron a repeat buyer. Instead they've been alienated and angered. Furthermore, I don't see anything in your argument to convince Bookatron to give ePub another try.

Every time someone like Bookatron has an experience like that, it's a tiny Ratner moment for the industry.

Sorry, but that to me is definitely an 'attitude' problem on the part of the publisher.

Oh, I agree that if frontlist titles are going out with typos in them, that's unacceptable. On backlist, well, I know it's not going to fly to ask the consumer to cut us a bit of slack, but it's just not reasonable to expect 100% perfection and 100% availability at the same time.