In New York at the Digital Book World Conference, the Four Horsemen rode onto the center stage. But predictions of imminent apocalypse were likely overstated.
One path to short-term salvation for the book business may be the pot of gold at the end of the Apple e-books price-fixing case. On Friday, March 4, the Supreme Court declined to take up Apple’s appeal, ending one of the publishing industry’s most closely-watched legal battles and triggering $400 million in refunds to e-book consumers under the terms of a 2014 settlement with 33 states and a consumer class.
“Apple will now pay $400 million to consumers in the form of refunds to their accounts, and another $50 million in fees and attorney costs,” explains Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer. “In fact, the settlement could turn out to be a bargain for Apple – with treble damages [had Apple not settled and lost in court] they could have been on the hook for over $800 million in damages, not counting costs and fees.
“The future of the e-book market from here on out is anyone’s guess. Whether agency remains, and what happens next, I am not so sure. The Apple trial was, at least, a chance for the publishers to articulate their common fears about Amazon, out loud, and to the public. But we will have to see how each publisher, individually, not collectively, deals with Amazon in the future—especially when one publisher, Penguin Random House, controls half the bestseller list,” Albanese tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.
At DBW, several speakers including USC’s Jonathan Taplin and NYU Prof. Scott Galloway spoke in less-than-heartwarming terms of the threat to publishing presented by Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook (the so-called “Four Horseman”). Taplin strongly suggested that while the Apple legal battle has ended, cultural and moral objections to the ways giant tech companies do business will only continue.
Every Friday, CCC’s “Beyond the Book” speaks with the editors and reporters of “Publishers Weekly” for an early look at the news that publishers, editors, authors, agents and librarians will be talking about when they return to work on Monday.