Apple, publishers subpoena Amazon in ebook price case

Apple is asking the Department of Justice to turn over interviews it held with Amazon employees as part of the recently-approved ebook pricing settlement. According to the Cupertino, Calif. iBooks firm, Amazon “was the driving force behind the Government’s investigation, and it told a story to the Government that has yet been scrutinized.”  The Justice Department is scheduled to haul Apple, along with Macmillan and Penguin into court next June.

Although it’s unclear how important Apple views the Amazon interview transcripts, the e-book seller must consider the contents worthy of a court battle. Details of the discussions with the DOJ surfaced after Amazon tried to quash the request in a Seattle court. Apple, meanwhile, wants to bring the case to the Southern District of New York, where federal Judge Denise Cote handled the government’s ebook pricing settlement against three other publishers. Judge Cote has said she’ll “promptly address the discovery dispute” if brought into her district.

In last week’s settlement, Cote gave HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster seven days to cut their contracts with Apple. In comments likely aimed at Apple, Cote remarked agency-model pricing (favored by the Cupertino, Calif. company) “eliminated potential pricing innovations, such as bundling, ‘all-you-can-read’ subscription services, book club pricing specials, and rewards programs.”

As a result of the settlement, retailers such as Amazon, are free to discount ebook pricing – something likely welcome as we head into the holiday buying period. It’s unclear how Apple will respond. Although its agency pricing model for ebooks hasn’t been ruled illegal, the practice has been damaged by removing limits on retailers, such as Amazon — who’s Amazon Prime ebook program and the Kindle are direct competitors with Apple.