Last Publisher Settles With Justice Dept. in E-Book Antitrust Case

The publishing company Macmillan and the U.S. Justice Department announced on Friday that they had reached an agreement to settle a lawsuit over the pricing of e-books, making Macmillan the last of five publishers named in the antitrust complaint to settle. The other remaining defendant, Apple, will continue to a trial in June. The government’s lawsuit, filed last April, accused the companies of conspiring to fix prices on e-books.

Macmillan’s chief executive, John Sargent, said in a letter to authors and agents that the company had done no wrong but was “not large enough to risk a worst-case judgment.” Three of the other publishers named in the lawsuit settled immediately, and the fourth settled in December.

As other publishers settled, Mr. Sargent said, “the remaining defendants became responsible not only for their own treble damages, but also possibly for the treble damages of the settling publishers (minus what they settled for).” He described the maximum possible damages for Macmillan as a “breathtaking amount” that was “much more than the entire equity of our company.”

The terms of the Macmillan settlement, which is subject to court approval, mirror those agreed to by the other publishers. Macmillan will immediately lift restrictions it has imposed on discounting and other promotions by e-book retailers. Reduced prices could be available to consumers as early as next Monday. The company will be prohibited until December 2014 from entering into new agreements with similar restrictions. The publisher must also notify the government in advance about any e-book ventures it plans with other publishers.

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