But if Random House or Simon & Schuster told Amazon et al. they were following suit, the booksellers might have to play along. That way publishers could legally control the price of their products while reducing the fees they pay to intermediaries and creating a sales infrastructure that costs far less than 30 percent.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble can still sell their Kindles and Nooks for however much they can get for them. And publishers and authors can do the same with their products.

The big problem here is that such a system would make buying books more of a hassle—forcing readers to input their credit card and address data each time they make a purchase. Publishers and/or authors would need to figure out how to fix that. They’d better get started.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.