Same planet, different worlds

OK, I realize that I'm turning into a media wonk here, but.....

Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are running stories on the Department of Justice lawsuit/settlement and its likely impact on book prices.

Here's the Wall Street Journal's take:

The popular $9.99 price for best-selling e-books may be back in a big way soon.

A settlement announced Wednesday between the Justice Department and three big book publishers will almost certainly lead to lower e-book prices on an array of best-selling titles that now cost anywhere from $12 or $13 and more.

Most important for consumers who like to read, it could mean the $9.99 price point championed by Inc. when it kicked off the e-reader market with its Kindle device in 2007 will once again be common.

The $9.99 price for best sellers largely disappeared after Apple Inc. struck deals with major publishers that changed pricing models for e-books, ahead of Apple's release of its iPad and its iBooks digital store. Instead of letting retailers set prices, as they have long done in the print book world, publishers began setting prices—with best sellers usually priced either at $12.99 or $14.99.

And here's the New York Times' take:

The government’s decision to pursue major publishers on antitrust charges has put the Internet retailer Amazon in a powerful position: the nation’s largest bookseller may now get to decide how much an e-book will cost, and the book world is quaking over the potential consequences.

As soon as the Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it was suing five major publishers and Apple on price-fixing charges, and simultaneously settling with three of them, Amazon announced plans to push down prices on e-books. The price of some major titles could fall to $9.99 or less from $14.99, saving voracious readers a bundle.

But publishers and booksellers argue that any victory for consumers will be short-lived, and that the ultimate effect of the antitrust suit will be to exchange a perceived monopoly for a real one. Amazon, already the dominant force in the industry, will hold all the cards.

“Amazon must be unbelievably happy today,” said Michael Norris, a book publishing analyst with Simba Information. “Had they been puppeteering this whole play, it could not have worked out better for them.”

It's just beyond parody! Amazon may drop prices...because it's eeeeeevil!!!! Evil puppetmaster Amazon! Poor little mega-billion-dollar publishing companies!

Call me naive, but I am happy that the DOJ is more worried about consumers being taken advantage of than it is about whether businesses are forced to make unpleasant adjustments--and maybe even shut down--in response to change. As for Amazon's eeeeevilness, my feeling about this is that the antitrust people over at the DOJ are now very focused on books. If Amazon starts engaging in predatory, monopolistic business practices, that will presumably get noticed. In fact, Charles Petit (via Rusch) points out that some of the business practices Amazon engages in now are not kosher according to the DOJ's filing--that's the problem when the feds get involved in your industry, everything they do cuts both ways. And of course people don't have to sit around waiting for the DOJ to take action--they can file antitrust suits themselves.