US joins investigation of German e-books publisher

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The United States’ top antitrust official has confirmed that the US Justice Department has joined the EU investigation into e-book antitrust activity among Apple and five publishers, including German group Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck.

The EU announced an investigation into whether the five publishers – also including American firms HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, French group Hachette Livre and UK brand Penguin – had conspired to fix the price of e-books after last year’s release of the iPad.

Before the tablet revolution e-books were sold by publishers for around half the price of traditional books because of the lack of printing and distribution costs. Now e-books typically cost the same as paperbacks with retailers, such as Apple, sharing in the profits.

At an oversight hearing yesterday, Sharis Pozen, acting head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, confirmed her organisation was involved in the investigation along with various state attorneys general.