In a 160-page opinion published this morning, Judge Cote found Apple liable for conspiring with book publishers to raise the price of e-books, in violation of antitrust laws. A damages trial will follow. The key findings are as follows:
The Plaintiffs have shown through compelling evidence that Apple violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act by conspiring with the Publisher Defendants to eliminate retail price competition and to raise e-book prices. There is overwhelming evidence that the Publisher Defendants joined with each other in a horizontal price-fixing conspiracy. Through that conspiracy, the Publisher Defendants raised the prices of many of their New Releases and NYT Bestsellers above the $9.99 price at which they had previously been sold through Amazon. They also raised the prices of many of their backlist e-books. The Plaintiffs have also shown that Apple was a knowing and active member of that conspiracy. Apple not only willingly joined the conspiracy, but also forcefully facilitated it. There is little dispute that the Publisher Defendants conspired together to raise the prices of their e-books. They shared a common motivation: the elimination of the “wretched” $9.99 retail price that Amazon, the chief distributor of their e-books, chose for many of their New Releases, including NYT Bestsellers. They believed that this price point in the nascent but swiftly growing e-book market would, if left unchallenged, unalterably affect the consumer perception of the value of a book and severely undermine their more profitable physical book business. To protect their then-existing business model, the Publisher Defendants agreed to raise the prices of e-books by taking control of retail pricing. From late 2008 through 2009, the Publisher Defendants had collectively tried through a variety of means to pressure Amazon to raise the prices of their e-books. Their efforts proved futile. Then, through agency agreements that each Publisher Defendant executed with Apple over the course of just three days in January 2010, and with Amazon (and other e-retailers) in the weeks that followed, the Publisher Defendants simultaneously switched from a wholesale to an agency model for the distribution of their e-books. When the iPad went on sale and the iBookstore went live in early April 2010 (or shortly thereafter, in the case of Penguin), each of the Publisher Defendants used their new pricing authority to raise the prices of their e-books overnight and substantially. This price-fixing conspiracy would not have succeeded without the active facilitation and encouragement of Apple. Before Apple even met with the Publisher Defendants in mid-December 2009, it was fully aware that the Publishers were adamantly opposed to Amazon’s $9.99 price point and were actively searching for an effective means, including through collective action, to pressure Amazon to raise its prices. Inspired by the impending Launch of the revolutionary iPad, scheduled for January 27, Apple seized the moment. Apple met with the Publishers in December 2009 and heard their unanimous condemnation of the $9.99 price point and desire to raise e-book prices. Volunteering that it was willing to price e-books as high as $14.99 in an e-bookstore, Apple won their rapt attention. Apple then presented a strategy –- the agency Agreements –- that would allow the Publishers to take control of and raise e-book retail prices in a matter of weeks. Knowing full well, however, that the Publisher Defendants wanted to raise e-book retail prices significantly above the $9.99 price point, even in some instances above the retail prices of the corresponding physical book, Apple placed pricing restrictions or caps on categories of e-books to ensure that the prices in its iBookstore were “realistic” and didn’t embarrass Apple. In negotiating the caps for its pricing tiers, Apple understood that it was setting the new retail prices at which e-books would be sold.
Prior posts on the case are here.