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Originally published Friday, February 8, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Last publisher settles over Apple e-book suit

The agreement, filed in federal court in Manhattan, will immediately allow retailers to lower the prices consumers pay for Macmillan’s e-books.

Bloomberg News

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WASHINGTON — Macmillan, the last publisher left in a U.S. lawsuit alleging an e-books price-fixing conspiracy with Apple, reached a settlement with the U.S. government Friday, agreeing to void deals with retailers that restrict discounting.

The settlement also requires Macmillan to avoid entering any new restrictive agreements on price or promotions until December 2014. Macmillan also agreed to a compliance program that includes reporting to the government communications with other publishers.

The agreement, filed in federal court in Manhattan, will “immediately allow retailers to lower the prices consumers pay for Macmillan’s e-books,” Jamillia Ferris, an attorney in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, said in a statement.

The settlement, if approved, would mark the end of a lawsuit for publishers alleging they conspired with Apple to undermine discounter Amazon.com’s dominance in the e-books market.

The suit reflected stepped-up enforcement against price-fixing agreements in industries including health care and auto parts. Regulators have also increased scrutiny of Apple’s digital publishing, mobile computing and music retail businesses.

The ligation against Apple will continue, the department said. Trudy Muller, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment on the continued litigation.

Separately, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan on Friday gave final approval to a $69 million settlement between 49 states and three of the publishers also named in the Justice Department complaint — Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group and HarperCollins.

The three settled with the government when the suit was filed on April 11, while Pearson’s Penguin reached an agreement in December. The companies named in the federal case are five of the six largest publishers of trade books in the U.S.

The Justice Department claimed in the suit that consumers were typically forced to pay as much as $14.99 or more for the most sought-after titles, up from what one of the publisher’s officers described as the “wretched $9.99 price point,” that prevailed before the conspiracy.

The plan was aimed in large part at thwarting Amazon, the largest U.S. seller of digital books, which had triggered an e-book boom by introducing the Kindle e-reader in 2007 and pricing best-selling e-books at $9.99.

At Apple’s suggestion, the publishers agreed to raise retail prices and give Apple a 30 percent cut, according to the complaint. Amazon was eventually forced to fall in line.

Drew Herdener, a spokesman for Amazon, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the settlement.

The agreement is “absolutely adequate,” Cote said during the brief hearing. “I find it provides real value to all consumers here.”

Macmillan doesn’t admit to violating the law under terms of the proposed settlement with the Justice Department.

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