Apple is already fighting Amazon in the ebook price wars

Apple (s AAPL) would prefer agency pricing on ebooks — that, we know. In fact, Apple is likely to appeal the DOJ’s ebook pricing settlement with HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster, which was approved last week. Turns out, though, that doesn’t mean Apple won’t play the price-drop game on their ebooks in the meantime.

We saw yesterday that HarperCollins has already entered into new contracts with ebook retailers like Amazon (s AMZN), Barnes & Noble (s BKS) and Google (s GOOG). Now Apple has a new deal with HarperCollins too. This morning I compared the prices of 12 HarperCollins titles across ebook retailers. Like Amazon, Apple is selling new bestselling ebooks for $9.99. (I’ve asked Apple for a comment on its pricing strategy for ebooks and will update this post if I hear back.)

Amazon is already dropping its ebook prices to match Apple’s, in the cases where Apple had priced a book lower than Amazon did. For instance, James Rollin’s Bloodlines and J.A. Jance’s Judgment Call¬†were each $10.94 in the Kindle Store this morning and $9.99 in iTunes. Just a few hours later, both books are down to $9.99 at Amazon as well.

Sure, we can’t draw major conclusions about Apple’s new ebook pricing strategy based on what it’s done with one publisher’s books. But in the case of HarperCollins, we’re already seeing that even if Apple would prefer agency pricing, price bands and MFNs for books, it’s willing to compete on price in the absence of those things. And it has a lot more money to do so than other ebook retailers like Barnes & Noble (s BKS) and Kobo.

Under agency pricing, Apple’s ebook market share hovered around 10 percent. But if customers are drawn to Apple’s new low prices on ebooks, it’s actually possible to envision a world in which Apple’s ebook market share rises — under the terms it didn’t want.