CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More people are reading electronic books than ever -- 21 percent of Americans have read at least one in the past year, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.
But the federal government and several states -- including West Virginia -- believe people are paying too much for those e-books. Last month, they sued five major book publishers, and Apple, claiming that they conspired to artificially raise the price of best-selling e-books.
The lawsuit, originally filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, alleges that e-book prices were boosted from $9.99 to $12.99 and $14.99.
"They got together and decided to get higher prices at the retail level for their electronic books," said Douglas Davis, West Virginia assistant attorney general.
The book publishers were worried because Amazon -- the biggest bookseller on the Internet -- was selling best-selling books for $9.99 and they were concerned it would negatively affect their hardcover book sales, Davis said.
At first, the publishers -- without input from Apple -- would wait to publish e-books until several months after hardcover book was published, he said.
"The e-book didn't come available until three and four months [after the hardcover book was released]," Davis said. "It had the effect of boosting the sale of hardcover books and making the price of e-books higher."
When Apple stepped in, it offered to sell books directly to customers through its iBookstore and charge a commission. Prices on books that had been selling for $9.99 went up to $12.99 and $14.99, Davis said.
The West Virginia attorney general and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw and officials in other states have reached tentative agreements with three of the five publishers: Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster.
They're still in litigation with two other publishers -- Penguin and Macmillan -- as well as Apple, which has denied the claims in the lawsuit.