Brussels: The European Union’s antitrust watchdog has started its inquiry to determine whether Apple helped five major publishing houses illegally raise prices for e-books when it launched its iPad tablet and iBookstore in 2010.
The inquiry was announced by the European Commission here on Tuesday.
In particular, the Commission is investigating a significant shift in the way the price of e-books is determined that occurred in 2010, just as Cupertino, Calif., based Apple introduced the iPad and its own online book store, iBookstore.
Apple was the first retailer that allowed publishers to move to so-called agency agreements, in which publishers get to set the price at which online bookshops sell e-books to consumers. Until then, publishers were able to set the wholesale price of e-books, while the retailers decided at what price to sell them on.
“The Commission has concerns that these practices may breach EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices,” the regulator said in a statement.
The investigation targets publishers Hachette Livre, a unit of France’s Lagardere Publishing; Harper Collins, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s U.S.-based News Corp.; CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster; Penguin, which is owned by U.K. publishing house Pearson Group; and Germany’s Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, which owns Macmillan.
Apple representative Bethan Lloyd said the company is declining comment at this time.