Concerns among some book publishers about Apple’s iBookstore could take the shine off the international launch of its iPad on Friday.
Several publishers are holding off signing Europe-wide contracts with Apple’s e-book service, owing to commercial misgivings and fears that its minimum pricing conditions could fall foul of UK law.
Apple caused controversy in the US with its iBookstore when it shifted the terms for e-book selling to the so-called “agency model”, by whichthe publisher sets a title’s price, and keeps 70 per cent of the sales, leaving 30 per cent for the retailer.
Five of the six major US publishers signed up to iBookstore at the iPad’s unveiling in April but support is less widespread in Europe. Random House, the sole large publisher not in the US grouping, said in March that fears about pricing could keep its books from Apple’s iPad.
One publishing executive told the Financial Times: “We are not absolutely sure the agency model is either legal or ideal for our authors and us.” Another publishing industry insider said the agency model was “price fixing by the back door” under UK rules. Although there could be a way around this legal hurdle, the uncertainty has left some publishers sitting on the fence.
At least two major publishers have agreed to participate in the international iBookstore, enticed partly by local currency pricing, something Apple’s main e-book rival, Amazon, does not yet provide.
Apple will offer thousands of out-of-copyright texts when the iPad hits retailers.
Legal concerns centre on the abolition in the 1990s of retail price maintenance in the UK, which effectively means no publisher can set a minimum price for its books. Apple’s iBookstore terms state that no other e-book retailer can undercut its own charging, and if a cheaper price is offered elsewhere, the price on the iBookstore automatically falls to match it.
Apple declined to comment.
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