Apple and four major book publishers have agreed to terminate their existing agreement for selling ebooks at higher prices as part of the ongoing European Union antitrust investigation into ebook sales practices. Under the new settlement, the "agency" agreement between Apple and publishers is abolished; instead, retailers are free to set the price of ebooks anywhere they choose over the next two years, provided that the value of the discounts offered does not exceed the value of the sales commissions the retailer receives from the publisher. Additionally, the clauses built into ebook sales contracts that prevented publishers from having their books sold for less than they were sold by Apple have also been done away with for at least the next five years.
In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, publisher Hachette Livre said it believes its agreement with Apple "was in the best longer-term interests of the whole book universe," but decided that "the costs, length, and distractions of the proceedings before the European Commission would be too disruptive to its business and to the development of ebook markets in general." This development comes a few weeks after Apple and four major publishers decided to offer discounted ebooks in an effort to end the EU's antitrust investigation. While the EU hasn't yet formally closed its look into ebook business practices, this new agreement should go a long way towards resolving the issues the EU has been investigating for the better part of a year.