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If you’ve been wondering recently why e-book prices seem high, let me tell you why antitrust violations could be (partially) to blame.

A government antitrust lawsuit a decade ago aimed at lowering prices led to higher prices instead.

The result suggests that even if the governments win, the U.S. government’s lawsuits against Google and Facebook and a just-announced Connecticut antitrust investigation into Amazon’s e-book business may not have the desired impact. It turns out that trying to change allegedly illegal corporate behavior can backfire.

Think back to 2012. The second “Twilight” movie was great. And the Department of Justice sued Apple and five of America’s top book publishers in the name of protecting consumers and our wallets.

Book publishers have been crazy about Amazon’s habit of pricing many popular Kindle books at $ 9.99 regardless of what the book companies’ price tag should be. Amazon was ready to lose money on e-books, but publishers feared it would devalue their products.

The government said the book companies and Apple struck a deal to hit Amazon back. Publishers could set their own e-book prices in Apple’s digital bookstore, essentially blocking discounts for any bookseller, including Amazon.

To the government, this seemed like a conspiracy to eliminate competition for prices – a big no-no under antitrust laws. Eventually the book publishers settled and Apple lost in court.

Later, Amazon, Apple and other e-book sellers agreed that publishers would enforce e-book prices. The agreements were legally kosher as they were negotiated separately between each publisher and bookseller. (I can’t answer why Amazon agreed to this.)

The government won, but the publishers got what they wanted in e-books. Bookstores can choose to take a loss to get a huge discount on a printed book, but usually not for digital editions. The $ 10 mass market e-book is largely gone.

How did antitrust proceedings mean lowering prices, possibly at higher prices? Christopher L. Sagers, a Cleveland State University law professor who wrote a book about the e-books litigation, told me that he believed it was a corporate antitrust violation.

Professor Sagers and others believe that some major book publishers publish most of the mass market titles and therefore have the power to keep prices high. He regrets that antitrust laws have not prevented the industry from focusing in this way. In other words, he thinks it’s bad for all of us that a book publishing monopoly is trying to fight Amazon’s monopoly.

“American antitrust law is basically a failure, and this case was a microcosm,” he told me.

Somehow this newsletter keeps coming back to that debate. One influential view – especially among left-wing economists, politicians, and scholars – is that US antitrust laws, or the way they are applied, are flawed. They believe the government has not stopped increasing corporate concentration and mergers in industries like airlines, banking and technology, which has resulted in higher prices, inferior products and income inequalities.

In the long run, for the book industry and for us, it might be healthy that the artificially low mass market digital novel is gone from $ 10. And there are plenty of affordable Kindle works available from self-published authors and Amazon’s own book publishing unit.

Amazon sold the e-book edition of Professor Sagers’ book on the price fixing on Friday for $ 28.45 – a price dictated by the book publisher. “I wish it was cheaper,” he said. “I wanted a lot of people to read it.”

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Perhaps you recently bought The Rug on Amazon. Or those TikTok leggings that women show off. I own the Amazon Coat, the pretty affordable outerwear star from a few winters ago.

It’s not uncommon for products like these from relatively unknown brands to quickly become popular. On social media, word of mouth, smart advertising, or the recommendations of influential people can all cause any product to go viral.

And when that happens, I wonder if the brands that matter most to our purchases are Instagram, Amazon, and TikTok – not the companies that actually make the products.

I don’t think anyone called it the “Orolay Coat” even though that was the company that made the Amazon Coat. (I had to check my closet to make sure the brand name was correct.) People who bought The Rug may not know that it was from a company called Rugs USA. It’s just this lovely rug that they saw on Instagram and bought on Amazon.

And if I asked the women who make TikTok videos of their new favorite leggings, could they tell you which company made them? Probably more than one company makes similar leggings with a honeycomb pattern? I don’t know folks, this is not a fashion newsletter.

My point is that the social media websites we use to learn about products and the websites we buy them from have a far greater impact on what we buy than the name that made the product Has.

Sure, some brands still play a role. They could be dedicated to Nike running shoes no matter what. But I bet a lot of other people might be looking for Nike shoes on Amazon, not finding what they’re looking for, and buying a different brand of sneakers instead.

Amazon already has your purchase information, you trust the company, and they can ship the shoes quickly. Amazon may not have made the sneakers, but it’s the brand that matters most.

  • Welp, that was pointless: Do you remember all the fights over whether the Trump administration would block TikTok in the US? Yes, that went nowhere and now Joe Biden has to find out what to do with TikTok and other technologies from Chinese companies, writes my colleague David McCabe.

  • Facebook’s double standards: The threat of violence from inflammatory posts and misinformation on social media is nothing new in many parts of the world. Adam Satariano says after Facebook and Twitter suspended President Trump, activists are asking why the companies haven’t acted elsewhere.

  • People buy houses that TikTok hasn’t seen? BuzzFeed News is about TikTok and the people who make fun of sticky houses and absurd kitchen remodeling in TikTok videos.

A raven named Merlina has gone missing and now Britain is concerned that the nation will end. Honestly, British, explain yourself.

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