It's not often that there's much overlap between the idea of the Ayn Rand Institute and those of the Authors Guild, but both organizations don't think highly of the decision by the Obama administration's Justice Department to pursue an antitrust case against five big publishers and Apple. (The five big publishers are the "big six" publishers minus the one that made President Obama almost all of his money, Random House, which stayed out of the "agency pricing" deal with Apple.)
Here's the Authors Guild's president, Scott Turow:
Let's hope the reports are wrong, or that the Justice Department reconsiders. The irony bites hard: our government may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition.
This would be tragic for all of us who value books, and the culture they support.
And here's the Ayn Rand Institute's Don Watkins:
There is no mystically ordained "right" price for ebooks—the right price is the one voluntarily agreed to between sellers and buyers. Sure, some buyers may complain about ebook prices—but they are also buying an incredible number of ebooks.
What in the world justifies a bunch of bureaucrats who have created nothing interfering in these voluntary transactions and declaring that they get to decide what considerations should go into pricing ebooks?
Laws that bar competitors from privately discussing prices are laws, even if they may be silly, and until or unless they are repealed it's certainly fair game for the government to take a close look if it appears they have been violated. But of all the areas in which consumers need to be protected by the federal government, given what one would at least hope would be the limited resources that the feds have to devote to this sort of thing, the idea that consumers need protection from, of all things, artificially high electronic book prices strikes me as one of the flakier ideas out there, given that the electronic books prices are mostly lower than those of printed books, and there are hardly any entry barriers.
Disclosure: I'm a member of the Authors Guild and there's an electronic version of my first book that was published by one of the five publishers in the sights of the Justice Department.