“The Justice Department is hailing a judge’s finding yesterday that Apple and publishers conspired to fix e-book prices as a victory for consumers, who are paying less since the alleged cabal was thwarted,” Marcus Wohlsen reports for Wired. “But readers shouldn’t rest easy. More than anything, Apple’s defeat in court reinforces the key fact of bookselling in the 21st century: Amazon has more power than anyone else to dictate what Americans pay for books. “Amazon could start curbing its storied discounts on books, and no one else — not publishers, not authors, not other booksellers — could do much to stop them.”

Wohlsen reports, “e-book competition could fade much as print book competition already has. Since books are hardly its main business, Apple could weather a face-off with Amazon, which would keep e-book prices down. But that same race to the bottom could sink Barnes & Noble’s effort to stay in the e-book game, leaving its business to rely solely on print — a dubious proposition. If Barnes & Noble does disappear, Amazon would lose the last competitor big enough to exert downward pressure on Amazon’s print book prices.”

“A rise in prices and a drop in sales might just speed the day when the print book become an artifact, a kind of luxury version of literature prized for its beauty as an object but not taken seriously as a vehicle for the everyday business of reading. If that happens, the idea of the book itself could start to fade as a meaningful concept, much as the album in the era of digital music already has. Killing off old media and making way for the new is one thing technology does well. The death throes of the old media are typically viewed with alarm at first, followed by an acceptance of the seeming inevitability of their passing,” Wohlsen reports. “But the book industry isn’t prepared to let go gently. And it’s especially not pleased with the prospect of one company alone wielding the axe.”

Read more in the full article here.

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