This is what one might describe as a contradiction in terms.
Despite the ongoing Justice Department antitrust probe, Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) myriad syndication partnerships may have actually helped maintain the competitiveness of online publishing. The Justice Department investigation hinges on whether Apple developed an e-book syndication model that was indifferent to, if not outright stacked against, major competitor Amazon (NASDAQ:AMNZ). However, this may have been exactly what the sector needed to keep from going stale.
It is widely held that Amazon.com single-handedly tolled the death knell for independent bookstores, with its combination of universal accessibility and bargain prices causing a pandemic of small stores folding across America. Bloomberg contributor Scott Turow maintains that Amazon may quickly develop a competitive chokehold on the e-book market as well without competing against Apple’s Amazon-unfavorable syndication model — an arrangement that is making room for new players to enter the market.
Apple itself is wading through the downsides of limited competition — with the duopoly Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T) hold on wireless LTE services causing unique difficulties for owners of Apple’s New iPad. Even though Amazon has been accused of unscrupulous practices, Apple under Jobs’ reign wasn’t free of suspicions around dodgy business ethics either. However, Apple’s aggressiveness in establishing syndication partnerships may have staved off Amazon from developing an iron monopoly on the e-book sector.
Irrespective of his brilliance, Steve Jobs was frequently described in euphemisms like ‘assertive’ and ‘prickly’. However, one of his final decisions as an executive may have actually left room for e-book competitors to breathe. Not only is Amazon in less of a position to put its overabundant assets towards buying the allegiance of publishing houses or particularly successful authors, but newcomers like Google‘s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Google Books may have the chance to emerge.
In fact, according to figures compiled by Bloomberg, Amazon’s share of the e-book market has fallen from 90% to roughly 60% in the last two years. E-books sales are only climbing, as the iPad and Kindle are both capable of holding a small library of titles. Even Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) managed to re-light its fading star by introducing the bargain price Nook right as books are in flight from pages to the screen.
Ultimately, a Justice Department trustbusting suit would be carried out with the intent of prying the competitive gates open, but might have the impact of only allowing Amazon to lock them outright.