Andrew AlbanesePublishers and Apple are calling it unsettling: The Department of Justice, they say, wants to torch existing settlement agreements with top publishers in the just concluded e-book price-fixing case against the iPad-maker. Yet do the Feds want harsher terms and double-strength compliance measures – or simply, a flourishing and competitive e-book marketplace?

“A lot of industry observers have cried foul,” notes Andrew AlbanesePublishers Weekly senior writer. “This order doesn’t tear up the publisher settlements, or amend them. What it does do – and, I think, cleverly – is to test the bonds of this cartel.”

As he sees it,  DOJ is merely trying to restart competition at the retailer level, Albanese tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “In 2014, when sanctions expire, the publishers are still free to impose full-on agency deals on everyone – except Apple. And the hope must be that this will reset the bar for the next contracts with Amazon.”

In that case, notes the  author of the bestselling e-book, The Battle of $9.99 “All the publishers need to do is hold firm to agency with Amazon. But — will one break the alliance? Which publisher will go for the dollars, and force the others to abandon agency, too?” Albanese wonders.

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.

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