The suit filed by the Justice Department, aimed at some obvious price-fixing in the market for digital books, is timely. Book publishers had hoped to save their bacon -- the same bacon that the makers of music LPs and CDs failed to save a few years ago -- by locking in higher prices. Apple had hoped to profit heavily, with the currently dead Steve Jobs quoted as saying that of course book buyers would have to pay "a little more" but "that's what you want." (The genius Jobs must have had an odd way of measuring "a little," when it was a difference between $9.99 and $16.99!) Of course the opposite model, the one pioneered by Amazon, was to sell e-books cheaply, gain market share, and hope to push other sellers out of business.
So it's difficult to tell what's best for consumers, but I do note two factors:
(a) Historically, the Amazon model seems similar to the cut-rate booksellers of a decade or two ago, who sought to peddle a limited selection of bestsellers at rock-bottom prices while not worrying too much about other books. They didn't put regular booksellers out of business, though.
(b) I don't know if I'm typical but my own experience suggests that the higher prices of e-books that have prevailed lately have one main result: I buy fewer of them. It's easy to take a flyer on a book you may not like at $9.99; harder, at prices nearly twice that. Surely the contraction of the overall market can't really benefit anyone. Not the publishers, the sellers, or the readers.
The ideal is probably a mixed, diverse market. If the DoJ succeeds in thwacking the price-fixers, such a market could ultimately result.