Penguin has become the fifth and final publisher to reach a settlement with the EU over ebook pricing, a move designed to “clear the decks” ahead of its planned merger with Random House.
Penguin, which is owned by Pearson, parent company of the Financial Times, will not restrict the ability of online retailers such as Apple to set prices for ebooks, according to details of the proposed settlement published in the EU’s Official Journal on Friday.
Brussels has been investigating Penguin and four other large book publishers over concerns they may have breached EU antitrust rules on cartels and restrictive practices.
In particular, antitrust regulators objected to the so-called “agency model” agreed between large publishers and Apple, which allowed the publishers to set ebooks’ retail prices, as opposed to allowing retailers to discount them from a wholesale price.
Penguin said in a statement that its “position that it has done nothing wrong remains unchanged and the company continues to believe that the agency pricing model operates in the best interests of consumers and authors.
“While we disagree with some elements of the commission’s analysis, we are settling as a procedural matter to clear the decks in anticipation of our proposed merger with Random House.”
In December, Penguin reached a settlement with the US Department of Justice over ebook pricing.
Penguin was the last company in the EU not to have offered a settlement. Apple, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette and Holtzbrinck settled the EU investigation last year.
Penguin and Random House, the book publishing arm of German media company Bertelsmann, are in the middle of a merger process that they expect to complete in the second half of this year.
The EU gave regulatory approval of the Penguin-Random House merger earlier this month, following US regulatory approval of the merger in February.
Brussels said Penguin’s proposal would undergo “market testing”, a common practice aimed at evaluating whether the proposed settlement conforms with EU competition rules.
“The proposed commitments aim to alleviate concerns that Penguin may have engaged in an anti-competitive concerted practice affecting the sale of ebooks in the European Economic Area,” the European Commission said.
The Commission, which acts as the EU’s antitrust watchdog, is likely to approve Penguin’s proposal as it is in line with the ones offered by other publishers involved in similar cases.
“[The offer is] substantially the same as those proposed by Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, Holtzbrinck and made legally binding by the commission in December 2012,” the commission said.
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