European Officials Investigate Possible E-Book Cartel Involving Apple

In a page ripped from the script of Scarface, except switch out drugs for e-books and Tony Montana for Apple, European Union anti-trust officials are looking in to whether five publishers of e-books have colluded with the makers of the iPad, offering them lower book prices than they do for everyone else.

Even if Al Pacino isn’t involved, this is serious stuff, says Reuters. The claim is that publishers owned by five companies, including News Corp., might have given Apple one lower price for e-books while not giving that price to other tablet makers. Regulators in the U.S. are also looking into pricing deals where publishers set the retail price.

Under antitrust rules, there should not be any price-fixing that can shut out competitors. If Apple gets one price for e-books, then Amazon should be getting that same price too. One price for all, and then retailers can offer whatever discounts they want.

This all went down after raids on the publishers in March. Raids! Again, like Scarface, but not really at all.

The five publishers involved in the investigation are: French media-to-aerospace group Lagardere’s Hachette Livre unit; News Corp’s Harper Collins, CBS Corp’s Simon & Schuster; Pearson’s Penguin and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck, which owns Macmillan in Germany.

“The Commission will in particular investigate whether these publishing groups and Apple have engaged in illegal agreements or practices that would have the object or the effect of restricting competition in the European Union or in the European Economic Area,” the EU’s executive Commission said in a statement.

EU Commission in e-books antitrust probe of 5 publishers, Apple [Reuters]