Apple might have to change its blanket policy prohibiting companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble from offering outbound links to their own e-book stores and content. The Department of Justice revealed today that a possible resolution to the Apple e-book price fixing case might see Apple be forced to end its existing agreements with the five publishers it’s accused of conspiring with as well, and not enter into new e-book distribution contracts for five years with those publishers that would “restrain Apple from competing on price.”
Apple would also be prohibited from entering into agreements with suppliers of e-books, movies, TV shows or other contents that would make it likely that prices would rise at its competitors, but the real change here for consumers would come from the requirement that Apple allow its competitors to offer links to their e-bookstores from their own iOS e-book reader applications, getting rid of the need for workarounds like Amazon’s recent free sample links update to its Kindle app, or the iPad-optimized web-based store.
Part of the arrangement would also involve appointing an official external monitor to keep tabs on Apple’s compliance with the proposed solution, to make sure that they’re not engaging in any anti-competitive activity. That individual would be paid by Apple, and work with an internal compliance officer also employed by Apple.
Ultimately, this is good news for iOS users, since it means Kindle and other apps will once again be allowed to link directly to their online stores for easy purchase of e-book content. And it’s great news for operators of those stores, since it’s impossible to imagine them not seeing more sell-through and higher conversions once the links are back in place.
Apple first forced Kindle and other apps to comply with new rules around in-app subscriptions or digital books purchases back in July of 2011. The move seems to have been prompted by Apple wanting a cut of all sales of digital goods made through apps on its platforms, by forcing adoption of in-app purchases, of which Apple gets a 30 percent cut. Judging by how this deal is shaping up, if it goes through shoppers on other e-book platforms will still have to go through external sites to purchase, rather than getting access to in-app purchases, but publishers will at least have the option to link them out instead of having to fork over the 30 percent commission.