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Texas AG questions e-book publishers

The state has contacted Hachette and HarperCollins about electronic book pricing. Apple's recent entry into the market could be the target.

State antitrust regulators may be asking publishers about Apple's influence on e-book pricing.

Two major publishing houses have been questioned about electronic book pricing by the Texas Attorney General's Office, according to two reports Wednesday.

Hachette Book Group and HarperCollins both told The Wall Street Journal that they had been contacted by the Texas AG's office, but did not elaborate on the subject of the inquiry. Earlier, book industry publication Publishers Marketplace reported that Apple was the target of the state's questioning.

Hachette and HarperCollins are two of the six major book publishers who publish digital books on Apple's iBooks platform.

Apple is relatively new to e-books, but it did make a splash when it introduced the iPad and accompanying iBooks store. One of the reasons was that, while had already established the pricing of e-books at $9.99, Apple insisted that best-selling titles start off at $12.99 or $14.99.

The result was that most of the major publishers raised their prices on other e-book stores in addition to Apple's iBooks. Apple's move also switched up the entrenched model in which book sellers dictated the price of books--now publishers are setting them.

That could be why the state of Texas is interested in Apple's foray into e-books, though it is sort of curious since Apple is so new to the market. Unlike digital music, where Apple is the dominant player, Apple is a rookie in digital books compared to and Barnes & Noble. Both companies also sell books and e-reader hardware on which to read them.

Apple has increasingly been the subject of inquiries by antitrust authorities. Last week the Department of Justice began asking music industry executives about Apple's hold on the digital music business. The Federal Trade Commission and the DOJ have also begun preliminary inquiries into how Apple deals with software developers and whether it might be unfairly squeezing out competitors from its products.