MediaFile

Even when Apple is losing, it wins

The Department of Justice, as anticipated, filed suit Wednesday against Apple and five of the Big Six publishers over alleged price-fixing. Three of those publishers have entered into a proposed settlement with the DOJ, but Apple is still on the hook.

We won’t know until we know whether Apple will win, lose or settle (and now there are 16 states piling on the charges, too), but in a way it’s a sort of hapless victim. If the DOJ theory is correct, Apple did participate in a sort of conspiracy, but one driven (again, according to the allegations) by publishers that were determined to keep controlling e-book prices. In the beginning of the e-book industry it was the publishers, not Apple, that had the upper hand.

It’s important to remember the climate in which this alleged conspiracy unfolded. Amazon, against publishers’ wishes, was going rogue with $10 e-books. The mammoth online retailer – which got its start in print books but essentially created the e-book business – was widely thought to be making nothing, or next to zero, on its proprietarily encoded e-books, the better to boost demand for the Kindle.

It was classic razor-and-blades: You want to make money on the razor, so you almost give away the blades, except only your razor can hold the free blades. But in e-books it’s an even better deal. Amazon doesn’t make e-books, and they are virtual goods, requiring no inventory and little overhead in the traditional sense.

But the publishing industry was displeased with Amazon’s new $10 regime. While it was beating on Amazon to change its ways, Macmillan – whose titles at the time included the best sellers Wolf Hall and The Gathering Storm – and Apple were negotiating terms for the iPad maker’s new offering: iBooks. Apple, unlike Amazon, was willing to play by Macmillan’s – and thus the publishers’ – rules.

Tech wrap: Kodak files for bankruptcy protection

Eastman Kodak, the photography icon that invented the hand-held camera, filed for bankruptcy protection and planned to shrink significantly after a prolonged plunge for one of America’s best-known companies. The Chapter 11 filing may give Kodak the ability to find buyers for some of its 1,100 digital patents, a major portion of its value. According to papers filed with the U.S. bankruptcy court in Manhattan, Kodak had about $5.1 billion of assets and $6.75 billion of liabilities at the end of September. Kodak now employs 17,000 people, down from 63,900 just nine years ago.

Kodak’s long decline can be traced back to one source: the former king of photography’s failure to reinvent itself in the digital age, writes Ernest Scheyder. Kodak’s film dominated the industry but the company failed to adopt modern technologies quickly enough, such as the digital camera — ironically, a product it invented. ”Kodak was very Rochester-centric and never really developed a presence in centers of the world that were developing new technologies,” said Rosabeth Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School. “It’s like they’re living in a museum.”

Apple unveiled a new digital textbook service called iBooks 2, aiming to revitalize the U.S. education market and quicken the adoption of its market-leading iPad in that sector. The move pits Apple against Amazon.com and other content and device makers that have made inroads into the estimated $8 billion market with their electronic textbook offerings. Apple has been working on digital textbooks with publishers Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a trio responsible for 90 percent of textbooks sold in the United States.

Tech wrap: RIM co-CEOs seen losing chairman role

RIM is close to a decision on stripping its co-chief executives of their other shared role as chairman of the board, The National Post newspaper said, a change that could meet a key demand from angry and disillusioned investors. The Post’s sources said Barbara Stymiest, currently an independent member of RIM’s board, is leading the race to replace Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie in the chairmanship. RIM shares jumped more than 7 percent on the news. But some analysts doubted Stymiest, if named to the chairmanship, would actually assume the transformational role that activist shareholders are calling for.

Groupon shares closed the day down 6.6 percent after a Susquehanna Financial Group – Yipit survey of almost 400 merchants found that while 8 out of 10 merchants enjoyed working with daily deal companies such as Groupon and LivingSocial, 52 percent were not planning to feature deals in the next six months and nearly 24 percent intended to feature only one deal during the same period.

Apple is planning an event to be held in New York later this month that will focus on publishing and eBooks, AllThingsD and Techcrunch reported. The event will unveil improvements to Apple’s iBooks platform, Techcrunch wrote.