Another Apple Ebook Lawsuit

February 4, 2014

Here we go again. The same state attorneys general who sued Apple in 2012 for allegedly conspiring with Big Six [now Big Five] publishers to inflate ebook prices are now seeking triple damages. The total sought is $840 million.

Apple’s attempt to establish the agency model for ebook pricing got it less than 10% of its revenues in 2010. But an $840 million award would certainly cover the damages for price fixing. US District Court Judge Denise Cote found in July 2013 that because of the conspiracy, “the prices in the nascent ebook industry shifted upward, in some cases 50% or more for an individual title.”

What’s the point? Does the money matter? If successful, will libraries suddenly get a massive infusion of cash to buy more ebooks? Maybe.

In the meantime, such massive lawsuits certainly spook publishers, and many authors, too. Generally speaking, the problem is not that authors are making too much money, as any author will tell you. Amazon’s downward pressure on prices may make consumers happy in the short run. In the long run, maybe not.

While Amazon gets a pass from publisher-related lawsuits, for now, there’s still enough anticorporate sentiment to go around. Call it post-bailout paranoia.

On the one hand, maybe the money does matter. Author Mariana Mazzucato argues in The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths that much of our cutting-edge technology (on display in the iPhone, for instance) was developed, in essence, by public-sector tax money. Not only does Apple capitalize on government-funded research, it also works hard to avoid paying some of that investment back. The fates of public and private sectors are intertwined.

On the other hand, it still makes more sense to me to encourage good deeds than to punish wicked ones. I prefer ALA’s Authors for Library Ebooks initiative to the prospect of another lawsuit. I bet authors do, too.