Apple Slapped with an Anti-Trust Lawsuit
The U.S. government hit Apple and five of the nation's largest publishers with an antitrust lawsuit, alleging they conspired to limit competition in the sale and pricing of e-books. Specifically, the government claims the publishers met as a group about once a quarter, "in private dining rooms of upscale Manhattan restaurants," and mutually agreed raise prices and block Amazon from selling e-books at $9.99. Along with collaboration from Apple, the group pursued the so-called "agency model" of book sales, in which publishers set the sales price without input from retailers. Amazon was given a choice of either accepting the agency model or losing the right to sell new titles until months after their release.
Three of the publishers - Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins - settled the U.S. suit and agreed to let Amazon and other retailers set the consumer price of e-books. Penguin Group (USA) and Macmillan are the other two publishers named in the suit.
Atty. General Eric Holder said of the suit, "As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles." Apple has responded as well, saying "The launch of the iBookstore in 2010 fostered innovation and competition, breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry... Just as we’ve allowed developers to set prices on the App Store, publishers set prices on the iBookstore."
A separate settlement with states could lead to tens of millions of dollars in restitution to consumers who bought e-books.
QUESTION: How damning for Apple are the accusations in the suit? Does it sound like someone on the inside of Apple or one of the other publishing houses talked to the government?
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal
Are Google and Amazon Eyeing Travelzoo?
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Travelzoo, the 14-year-old deals site, is planning to sell itself. After apparently receiving some takeover interest from private equity firms, the company started seeking a financial adviser, setting off speculation that a sale was imminent. Their stock soared by nearly 30% after the news broke, gaining $6 to close at $27.06
A pioneer in the daily deals business, Travelzoo has been sending subscribers a weekly email highlighting what it calls the top 20 travel deals for more than a decade.
AllThingsD speculates that Google - which snapped up ITA Software and memorably tried to purchase newsletter-based deals giant Groupon - may be interested in Travelzoo, but also names Amazon, Expedia and Priceline as potential buyers.
Travelzoo’s revenue stream is based on an advertising model where companies pay a fee to get in front of its large email audience. The company’s market value is hovering around $300 million - the main sources of value are a sales team and its list of subscribers.
In 2011, the company reported revenues of $148 million, up from $112 million over the same period during the previous year.
QUESTION: With so many startups vying for acquisition by the big guys, it’s easy to forget that more well-established companies can also be ripe for the picking. What would a sale of a long-tailer like Travelzoo mean for the industry? Who do you think will get it?
Google Proposes New Class of Stock
Google started off its earnings call on Thursday by discussing its new 2-for-1 stock split for existing shareholders. As part of the restructuring, Google will create a new class of shares that are similar in all ways to other classes of Google shares, only without voting rights. As with the company's 2004 decision to create a special class of stock giving the founders significantly more voting control, this move seeks largely to centralize power in the hands of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Currently, the duo along with Eric Schmidt control 66 percent of voting power at Google.
In The Founders' Letter, Brin and Page defend the move, saying "After careful consideration with our board of directors, we have decided that maintaining this founder-led approach is in the best interests of Google, our shareholders and our users. Having the flexibility to use stock without diluting our structure will help ensure we are set up for success for decades to come." The pair also added that Google does not have any major acquisitions planned.
QUESTIONS: Is this what's best for Google and its investors? Should CEOs of public companies really expect to control this kind of centralized voting power?
Sony Launches Android-Powered Smart-Watch
Sony has launched its SmartWatch, a timepiece for the wrist that allows owners to read text messages, social updates and e-mail, manage calls, and control music. The SmartWatch connects to an Android phone via Bluetooth.
The device's strap is rubber and comes in white, pink, mint, and blue. Sitting atop the strap is the watch's touchscreen OLED display measuring 1.3-inches. To alert users to an event or an incoming call, the timepiece vibrates.
The watch will work with Android phones from Sony, HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and others, and Sony says it can run four days on a single charge. Plus, it's both dust and splash proof!
Some may remember that, back in 2010, the company launched LiveView, another watch that interacted with Android phones. Although it floundered after launch, the device is still for sale on Amazon for $54.99. The new SmartWatch is $149.99 on the company's online marketplace and in stores
QUESTION: Is a smart watch a step backwards? If you want to know what time it is, tweet or read e-mail, isn't an Android phone already good for that? Why would Sony try again after the LiveView didn't live up to expectations? Do they know something we don't?
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