With the agency pricing antitrust lawsuit effectively all over but the crying, I’ve run across a couple of interesting post-mortems on the affair that are worth a little consideration.
At Publishers Weekly, Andrew Albanese has a good wrap-up going over what the decision means for publishers and consumers. As I’ve already noted myself, for publishers it means surprisingly little. The intervening time since Judge Cote’s decision has given them ample time to renegotiate their contracts. And whether it was the publishers or Amazon itself who wanted agency pricing to return, return it nonetheless has.
And the publishers themselves stand to benefit, at least a little, from the $400 million in settlement fees that will end up in consumers’ pockets. Consumers won’t have to spend that settlement on books or e-books, but at least some of them will.
But while that money could in theory be disbursed fairly quickly, Albanese points out there’s still one fly in the ointment holding it up—and it’s one I hadn’t expected. Remember John Bradley, the class objector the appeals court ruled against in February, who thought Apple should be on the hook for more money? Even though the appeals court tossed his claim, he still has the right to appeal that denial up to the Supreme Court himself—and even if it seems highly unlikely the Supreme Court would be interested in financial nitpicking when it had no interest in the case itself, Apple nonetheless may not be able to pay out until he’s had his last day in court.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Albanese’s wrap-up, though, is how utterly silent the comment section below the article is. As I noted in a comment there myself, I remember the days when any Publishers Weekly article on the case would have a lively discussion, possibly running into the dozens of comments, as PW readers chimed in about how evil Amazon was and how justified the publishers were. Now…dead silence. It seems there’s not a lot of schadenfreude to be had from sulking sore losers.
Though the schadenfreude I find in another reaction piece does make up for it to a great extent. Remember Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt, whose coverage was slanted so heavily in Apple’s favor that it made me feel like I’d wandered into a production of Rashomon? The one who read judge-review sites (and possibly tea leaves) to conclude that Judge Cote was biased? He has his own post-mortem on the case, in which he tries to figure out how he could have been so wrong.
But it’s not that he was wrong about Apple and the publishers being right—he still doesn’t admit that. It’s that he was wrong about the courts agreeing with him. The reasons Elmer-DeWitt finds for that include his view that “Amazon’s monopoly control of the e-book market” kept new competitors from entering it, his continued belief that Judge Cote had pre-decided the case, his differing opinion of Apple exec Eddy Cue’s credibility, Apple’s lawyers seeming to have a more polished case than the government’s (and being much more willing to talk to him about it), and his disagreement with the courts over questions of the law.
Perhaps the biggest thing to take away from this is the danger of letting your respect for a company overtake your reason—but even so, that’s a danger we all partake in, being human ourselves and having strongly-held opinions about everything. Just look at me—I’ve never tried to hide my opinion that the publishers spent over a decade systematically screwing the pooch when it came to e-books, and it took Amazon to come in and create an e-book market practically from scratch. It could just as easily have been I wondering where I went wrong if the courts had chosen to side with Apple.
Another thing to take away might be how focused Apple has been on PR, both before and during the affair, to the point where even its lawyers have been willing to schmooze the press and try to get them on Apple’s side. But then, that’s Apple—that kind of thing is just what the company does. It’s what it’s always done—the brilliance of its innovative hardware designs has always been paired with slick marketing telling us to “think different.” Unfortunately for Apple, good marketing and PR don’t always play well in court.
In any event, it feels good to have the case finally out of the way (except for that last bit of business with the objector), and even better to have that validation that the court decisions have been in line with my own opinions all along. I wonder just how long it will be until the settlement can be disbursed?
So, how did Judge Cote and the DOJ make the eBook market better?