DOJ reportedly checking up on publishers again as Amazon/Hachette battle continues

Perhaps you thought the Department of Justice’s battle against publishers was over, even as its legal fight with Apple(s AAPL) for allegedly colluding with those publishers to fix ebook prices grinds on. Not so fast: According to a report in the Wall Street Journal Monday night, the DOJ recently went back to HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster “asking about any recent pricing discussions they may have had with others in the industry…The inquiries reopened a sensitive and costly issue that publishers thought they had resolved, and raised the possibility of additional constraints on how they do business.”

It appears from the report that the DOJ sent the letters during the same time period in which Hachette and Amazon(s amzn) are fighting over the terms of Hachette’s new contract. Amazon is delaying shipments of Hachette titles and has turned off pre-orders on many of the publisher’s books. Hachette says that over 5,000 books have been affected. “We are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon,” Amazon said in a recent post on its website.

Meanwhile, criticism of Amazon has mounted, especially from Hachette authors like Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson.

The DOJ settled with HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster in April 2012 (and with the two other publishers in the ebook pricing case, Macmillan and Penguin, later in the year) and the settlements went into effect in September 2012 and last for two years. That means settling publishers are negotiating new contracts with retailers this year and will once again have the ability to restrict retailers from discounting their ebooks. Renewed scrutiny from the DOJ could throw a further wrench into those negotiations, though the WSJ notes that “the significance of the Justice Department’s latest move isn’t clear. The inquiries don’t necessarily mean any legal action is imminent or even likely, a person familiar with the situation said.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Carlos andre Santos