The Department of Justice recently filed a motion asking that its settlement with Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster in its e-book pricing lawsuit be approved in federal court. No surprise there.
If accepted, sometime around the middle of September, retailers will be able to set their own prices for e-books, at least from the three publishers in the settlement. The settlement allows the agency-pricing model that came under DOJ scrutiny to remain, but the provisions of the settlement make anything resembling the current agency model highly unlikely.
While the settlement allows retailers to set the sales prices, publishers can prohibit discounts on their books. That provision comes into play when the total sales of a year exceed the margin the retailer has earned, according to an analysis of the agreement in The Shatzkin Files.
However, the article also points out how easily that discount prohibition may be sidestepped. For instance, a retailer such as Amazon may choose to cut e-book prices way below its costs during a specific time frame, such as the upcoming holiday season, figuring to make up the margin over the next nine months. In the meantime, other publishers who may still be clinging to the agency-pricing model may have to lower its prices just to stay competitive.
Which is exactly what many in the bookselling industry feared all along.