Dog-Eared and Dispatched: September 1, 2013The wild world of book culture was full of U.S. Open-grade volleys this week. The skirmish commenced with President Obama’s letter in reply to the questions/accusations raised by booksellers and publishers following his visit to an Amazon distribution center. The vexation created by the seemingly dismissive nature of Obama’s response was mirrored in Apple attorney Orin Snyder’s most recent courtroom remarks regarding the DOJ’s blatant favoritism of Amazon over Apple. And, as the antitrust case comes to a close, Quebec officially begins its own series of hearings in relation to a government-sanctioned price fixing plan. Meanwhile, the Author’s Guild has filed for an appeal in their nearly decade long case against Google Books’ library project. Finally, Jeff Bezos will conduct a Q&A session at The Washington Post this upcoming Tuesday, hopefully addressing inquiries both the Post staff and the public have vis-à-vis his recent purchase of the paper.
Obama issued a letter this week in response to booksellers’ and publishers’ concerns regarding his visit to an Amazon facility and his perceived endorsement of the massive online retailer. Unfortunately, his letter (sent to Executive Director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, Steve Fischer) failed to contain any mention of Amazon or address the claims made by the American Booksellers Association and others regarding the impact Amazon’s business practices have on small/independent retailers. Instead, the letter focused on the policies the president has established for the sake of small businesses since he first took office in 2008. In a statement to The Atlantic Wire, Fischer remarked, “After the DOJ ruling on e-book pricing which so clearly favors Amazon, Obama’s visit to their Chattanooga warehouse, and then not shopping at either of the independent bookstores on Martha’s Vineyard while on vacation, I guess we’re not having a summer of Obama love.” [Publisher’s Weekly, GalleyCat, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Wire]
During the latest court deliberation of the antitrust case, Apple attorney Orin Snyder was frank in his criticism of the DOJ, accusing them of “seeking a remedy that would give Amazon a significant competitive advantage over Apple.” Despite these allegations, an agreement appears to be on the horizon for Apple and the Department of Justice, with a final draft of the injunction against Apple slated for completion by Wednesday, September 4. This tentative conclusion to the antitrust case comes in large part as a result of Judge Denise Cote’s recent revisions to the charges against Apple. Cote decided to refrain from regulating Apple’s App Store activities and reduced the government’s external monitoring of the company from five to two years (during which time an emphasis will be placed on antitrust policy and training). In addition to these changes, Apple asked that it be allowed to “modify” rather than “terminate” its current contracts with the defendant publishers—to which both the judge and the DOJ agreed. Prior to the hearing, Apple had also requested the right to choose the sequence in which they begin their renegotiations with the Big Five publishers; this issue was not addressed during the hearing, however, indicating that the DOJ’s original order (H at 24 months, HC at 30 months, S&S at 36 months, PRH at 42 months, and M at 48 months) will likely remain. [GigaOM, Publisher’s Weekly]
As the Apple vs. DOJ debate winds down, the delayed Authors Guild vs. Google lawsuit is gaining momentum once again. The case began in September of 2005 when the Authors Guild accused Google of violating copyright laws and trying to “gain a competitive advantage over other search engines” and “generate even greater advertising revenues” through its Google Books’ library project. In response to these claims, Google stated that the project is a public service and therefore protected under fair use laws. After much courtroom flip-flopping in July of 2012—at which time Judge Denny Chin granted the Authors Guild class action status only to have his decision overturned by the Second Circuit shortly thereafter—a summary judgment in Google’s favor was delivered by the court. The Authors Guild opposed this judgment and is now in the process of filing an appeal, though what this appeal will lead to—another summary judgment, a settlement, a trial—is as of yet unknown. [Publisher’s Weekly]
The Quebecois government has concluded its first week of hearings about price-fixing its books. Tension mounted higher during the week as groups opposed to the policy added their voices to the debate. At the forefront of these opponents is the Economic Institute of Montreal (IEDM), an independent, not-for-profit research and educational organization that studies public policy across Canada. Economist Youri Chassin, the representative for IEDM, equated the idea of fixing book prices to legalizing a cartel and went on to claim that mass market retailers (such as Wal-Mart and Costco) comprise a significant portion of book sales if we refrain from judgment and consider “both Shakespeare and the 2013 Car Guide” as literature. [Publisher’s Weekly]
On Tuesday, September 3, Jeff Bezos will make an appearance at The Washington Post to conduct a Q &A conference with the staff. Bezos has been fairly silent thus far regarding his plans for the paper, declining to openly discuss the matter with anyone other than Post reporter Paul Farhi. “I don’t want to imply that I have a worked-out plan,” Bezos stated during his August 5 interview with Farhi. “This will be uncharted terrain, and it will require experimentation.” [Poynter]