DOJ wants Apple to place links to third-party e-book stores in iOS apps

A few weeks ago, a federal judge ruled that Apple had conspired with five major book publishers to fix the prices of e-books. Today, the US Department of Justice offered up a proposal for the judge to consider when the sentencing portion of the case begins later this month and it includes what will be a way for other e-book sellers to better sell their books on iPhones and iPads. 

The DOJ press release states that part of their proposal would let retailers, such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble, offer direct links to their e-book stores from their respective iOS apps for at least two years. The DOJ also proposes that Apple terminate their current agreements with the five book publishers that were named as part of the e-book price fixing plan and bar Apple from entering into new e-book agreements for five years "... which would restrain Apple from competing on price."

Finally, the DOJ proposal asks for Apple to pay for an external monitor that would check in to see if Apple is in fact not engaging in any more anti-competitive activities; Apple has yet to comment on the DOJ's press release. Before and during the trial, Apple denied the government's charges that it has tried to fix e-book prices.

Source: DOJ | Image via Apple

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I've always thought that companies should be able to do what they please UP TO a certain point. When users get over 1-10 million, then you're subject to a little more oversight. I hate monopolies I don't own too, but a little public good sometimes had to be forced on behemoth companies in order to promote the illusion of free market right?

I am sorry to say it, however, I wish every lawyer on the planet would be forced to breath water. How about making laws and regulations that aren't in vaugue and cryptic Latin? What is this, the Middle Ages?

For example, killing or capturing Bigfoot is illegal...

Undiscovered Species Protection Act
Whereas, there is evidence to indicate the possible existence of an undiscovered species a primate mammal variously described as Bigfoot, Sasquatch, an ape-like creature or a subspecies of Homo Sapiens.
Whereas, reported recent and past sightings, research by anthropologist, Primatologist, biologist, forensic experts, cryptozooligst, independent organizations, private individuals and the famous chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall support this possibility.
Whereas, the absence of specific laws covering the slaying, taking, trapping or harassing of said specimens encourages laxity in the use of firearms and other deadly devices and poses a clear and present threat to the safety and well-being of persons living or traveling within the boundaries of the creatures habitat as well as to the creatures themselves.
Whereas, for the safety of all, the carrying or dispersing of firearms requires a sense of responsibility to all surrounding individuals and animals. It is the shooters full responsibility to correctly identify the species before the taking of aim and or the killing of a species, therefore ignorance will not absolve the shooter of said charges.
Whereas, be it resolved that any premeditated, willful and wanton slaying harassing or any malicious activities upon such creature shall be deemed a felony punishable by a fine not to exceed One hundred Thousand Dollars ($100.0000) and/or imprisonment, not to exceed ten (10) years.
Whereas, in the event of the slaying or capture of said creature any and all (moneys) proceeds and revenues shall be donated to a state college for future studies and or the protection of said creatures. The rights and physical possession to the said creature shall also be immediately donated to a state college, for further studies.

The DOJ press release states that part of their proposal would let retailers, such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble, offer direct links to their e-book stores from their respective iOS apps for at least two years.

This needs to be universal and not just for two years. Microsoft had similar issues with Apple when Apple wanted 30% cut of MS Office360 subscriptions by way of in-app purchases. I think Apple also restricts apps further by forcing them to match prices if they have external stores and in-app purchasing. So, for example, if a game has in-app purchases for a particular dollar amount and then has a way for users to login to their website and make the same purchases for cheaper (which makes complete sense when Apple isn't taking 30%) the app could get banned.

These rules are extremely anti-consumer. I don't disagree with Apple taking some cut of sales when they are the ones ultimately responsible for billing. But they need to give the user more incentive to purchase through in-app purchasing that is not just based on bullying. One example where Apple *is* doing a good job at providing a better service to their end users is magazine subscriptions. I've had a hell of a time unsubscribing to the digital version of the Wall Street Journal through their website (actually I had to call them and then was pressured to keep my subscription). If purchased as an in-app subscription the subscription auto-renew can EASILY be toggled off. All the active subscriptions are all in one place on my phone and I can easily unsubscribe to any of them without any ambiguity or having to call anyone. This is where in-app purchases shine and I would gladly spend even a few bucks more for a subscription if it means that I can easily unsubscribe when I'm not interested anymore.

e-book price fixing plan and bar Apple from entering into new e-book agreements for five years "... which would restrain Apple from competing on price."

I'm against that. It would be anti-consumer. The judge can focus on what will just hurt Apple and minimize the impact on the consumers.

The judge could add insult to injury and make Apple include links and prices of competing stores IN their iBooks store for 2 years. That would be more than fair and force Apple to price match their competition or get sunk.

warwagon said,
Should Walmart have to put an Amazon price tag next to each time in the store?

Wal-Mart has already bought the item in their stores and are reselling them for profit. Big difference.

But why should apple promote other book sellers when they are in the business of selling books? So should I put a piece of paper in my garage with my competitors phone number on it?

warwagon said,
But why should apple promote other book sellers when they are in the business of selling books? So should I put a piece of paper in my garage with my competitors phone number on it?

If you get sued, and found guilty, for price fixing and collusion with autoparts makers to make it impossible to difficult for other garages to compete, yes.

"The DOJ press release states that part of their proposal would let retailers, such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble, offer direct links to their e-book stores from their respective iOS apps for at least two years."

Why exactly would it not function that way already? That sounds like something Amazon and B&N would have complete control over.

I believe apple doesn't allow external links in those apps because apple would lose out on the 30% commission on sales done within their apps if someone were to buy from some external shop instead of directly from apple

that is a huge blow and I imagine apple will do every thing in its power to not have to do that

Edited by SleeStak, Aug 2 2013, 3:16pm :

Oh yeah, that does sound familiar. Well I don't think Apple gets commission if I buy something else using the Amazon app, so I don't know why it should be any different with eBooks. Sounds like a pretty shoddy restriction on Apple's part.

Basically anything that is consumed outside of the app, like physical goods, MUST NOT use Apple's in app purchasing or it will be rejected.

The same is true for the opposite, if you're buying something to be consumed/used inside the App, like an eBook, then it has to go through Apple's in app purchase.

From the Developer Guidelines:


11.2 Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected.

11.3 Apps using IAP to purchase physical goods or goods and services used outside of the application will be rejected.

11.13 Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in the App, such as a “buy” button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected

11.14 Apps can read or play approved content (specifically magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video and cloud storage) that is subscribed to or purchased outside of the app, as long as there is no button or external link in the App to purchase the approved content. Apple will only receive a portion of revenues for content purchased inside the App.


Ad Man Gamer said,
can you get around this by launching two apps? One being a reader and the other being a store?

No. You get around this buy having a link that takes you to Safari or Chrome store website which is what I believe they have been doing.