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STEVE JOBS hits back at ebook ruckus FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE

Tech tyrant's bone-chilling touch felt at price-fixing trial

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The "smoking gun" Steve Jobs email that US prosecutors hope will nail Apple at its ebook price-fixing trial was NOT sent by the doomed biz baron, lawyers claim.

The fruity firm has been defending itself against allegations that it conspired to artificially hike the prices of digital tomes sold through its iTunes store.

The US Department of Justice claimed to have landed a killer blow in the antitrust case on Tuesday: it showed the court an email from 2010 in which Apple co-founder Steve Jobs - who died in 2011 - appeared to reveal his desire to force ebook arch-rival Amazon into a new pricing model that would suit Apple and its publishing pals.

However, Apple's lawyers now claim the iPhone messiah did not fire off that message - and that it was an unsent draft.

Prosecutors had presented correspondence between Jobs and Eddy Cue, the Apple veep acting as point-man in negotiations to bring ebooks to the iPad, in which Jobs said he would rather publishers made Amazon sign up to an agency model where publishers set the prices.

“I can live with this as long as they move Amazon to the agent model too for new releases for the first year,” Jobs wrote, according to the DoJ. “If not, I’m not sure we can be competitive."

Yesterday, Apple revealed another email sent just minutes later that conveyed a very different message: before pressing send, Jobs had deleted all mention of the agency model. Apple lawyers argued this means the email the DoJ presented as clear evidence of price-fixing was simply an ill-thought-out draft.

The message that Jobs actually sent, we're told, read:

I can live with this as long as they also agree to the other thing you told me you can get: The retail price they will set for any book will be the LOWER of the applicable “iTunes” price below OR the lowest wholesale price they offer the book at to anyone else, with our wholesale price being 70% of such price.

For example, normally our retail price for a $26 book will be $12.99 and we will pay 70% of that, or $9.10. However, if they offer the same book to Amazon for a wholesale price of, say $12.50, then our retail price for the same book shall be set at $12.50 and we will pay 70% of that price for the book.

Apple maintains it did not pressure publishers nor Amazon to adopt an agency business model - in which the publishers set the ebook prices, and Apple and other retailers take a healthy cut. The agency model differs from the traditional wholesale model, in which retailers (such as Amazon) buy at cost from publishers and set their own prices on the open market.

It is alleged that Apple felt it could not compete against Amazon - which is happy to sell its tomes below cost - and thus favoured the more profitable agency model.

Kevin Saul, the lawyer who devised Apple's ebook contracts with publishers, insisted Cupertino was "indifferent" to the deals book giants had struck with Amazon.

Publishers Penguin, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Hachette have all settled out of court, leaving Apple as the last man standing.

Jobs' spectre has not always helped Apple in defending its case: the DoJ presented a statement branded "incredibly stupid" in which he told reporters that Apple's ebooks "prices will be the same" as Amazon's - implying that the iPad maker could force all prices up, it is alleged.

There's no word on whether the Spirit of Steve will return to help Apple see off critics of its tiny tax bills and 40-quid power chargers. But we would urge fanbois to keep their faith. ®

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