Apple, publishers offer EU e-book antitrust settlement

BRUSSELS Wed Sep 19, 2012 5:25am EDT

A man with video camera records outside the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts before Apple introduced the iPhone 5 during Apple Inc.'s iPhone media event in San Francisco, California September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

A man with video camera records outside the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts before Apple introduced the iPhone 5 during Apple Inc.'s iPhone media event in San Francisco, California September 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Apple Inc and four major publishers have offered to let retailers such as Amazon.Com Inc sell e-books at a discount, in a bid to end an EU antitrust investigation, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

EU regulators have been investigating Apple's e-book pricing deals with Simon & Schuster, News Corp unit HarperCollins, French group Lagardere SCA's Hachette Livre, Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, which owns Macmillan in Germany, and Pearson Plc's Penguin group.

Apple and the publishers, with the exception of Penguin, have offered to settle with the Commission, which began its inquiry last December.

"For a period of two years, the four publishers will not restrict, limit or impede e-book retailers' ability to set, alter or reduce retail prices for e-books and/or to offer discounts or promotions," the European Commission said in its Official Journal, detailing the offer under consideration.

Reuters reported the proposal on August 31.

The Commission said the publishers and Apple also offered to suspend "most-favored nation" contracts for five years. Such clauses barred publishers from deals with rival retailers to sell e-books at prices lower than those set by Apple.

The EU watchdog said third parties have a month to provide feedback on the proposals. If the response is positive, the Commission will end its investigation.

HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette reached a settlement with the U.S. government in April with similar proposals.

According to analysts at UBS, e-books account for about 30 percent of the U.S. book market and 20 percent of sales in Britain, but are still negligible elsewhere.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Rex Merrifield and David Holmes)

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