Today Publisher’s Weekly reports:
According to a recent filing, publishers have paid a total of $166,158,426 to settle state and consumer e-book price fixing charges, including an additional $3,909,000 to settle consumer claims in Minnesota.
In all, the total damages assessed to the publishers came in at $218,883,000…And that figure could jump considerably now that Apple has been found liable at trial. Pending a reversal on appeal, Apple will eventually have to pay to settle the state and consumer claims as well.
I wrote an article about this for Kindle Fire on Kindle Nation Daily, Apple Loses in Ebook Price Fixing Case. The article provides more information about the basis of the government’s case against the big publishers who were involved as well as Apple, so if you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about here that may be a good place for you to start. Don’t worry – the link opens in a new window, so you can click on it, read the article, then come right back here for details of refund eligibility and how to file a claim in the settlement.
Did You Get Your Check Yet? Me Neither.
Oh yes, the publishers have paid their fines into the Attorneys General fund, but it seems nobody’s making much of an effort to let consumers know how to collect their share of that money as reimbursement for paying illegally inflated prices for ebooks they purchased between the time publishers raised their prices and the time the publishers were forced to abandon their new “agency” pricing model.
Fortunately, the Attorneys General have set up a website with all the information about the case, the settlement, and the publishers, retailers and other parties involved. It also includes details on how to file a claim if you’re an ‘injured’ party in this case (someone who paid an illegally inflated price for an ebook before the publishers settled) and many helpful links.
But before I provide the link to that site (where you’d have to spend a lot of time hunting around and reading up), I’m providing the key questions and answers: first, how to determine if you’re eligible for a refund in the first place, and second, whether or not it’s worth applying.
It’s been pointed out to me by some sharp-eyed commenters here and on Facebook that while Amazon, B&N, Apple and Kobo agreed to issue refunds or store credits to affected customers directly, without any outside claims process, a deadline of 12/31/12 was set for everyone who bought eligible ebooks from any other vendor (e.g., Google, Sony, etc.). Obviously, that deadline has passed.
Are You Eligible For A Refund?
I’ll provide the relevant links to the State Attorneys General E-book Settlements website, which provides all the details on the case and settlements, but first things first: there’s no point in pursuing the matter further unless you’re eligible to file a claim.
**UPDATE – CORRECTION** Again, the deadline for claims on ebooks purchased from any vendor other than Amazon, Apple, B&N or Kobo has passed. Amazon, Apple, B&N or Kobo are supposed to be issuing refunds or store credits directly to their own affected customers themselves, without any outside claims process. The information that follows lays out eligibility requirements for ALL ebook purchases, so it can still help those who bought ebooks from Amazon, Apple, B&N or Kobo to determine whether or not they’re owed any refunds or store credits on those purchases as a result of the settlement.
In general, you’re eligible to file a claim to collect a share of the settlement if:
– you bought an ebook that was published by one of the publishers who were parties to the case between 4/1/2010 – 5/21/12, AND
– you bought that ebook from ANY legitimate retailer (e.g., Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Sony, or any other ebook retailer operating legally within the United States)
– you were a resident of 1) a state other than Minnesota, 2) the District of Columbia, or 3) one of the five U.S. Territories and Commonwealths at the time of purchase. US Territories include: Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.
Apparently the Attorney General for Minnesota didn’t participate in the class action suit, and settlements for Minnesota are being handled separately. Minnesotans will have to contact their state’s Attorney General’s office for more information, but as you’ll learn in the next section, it may not even be worth the time to do so because projected reimbursement amounts are very small.
OK, So You’re Eligible; Is It Worth Pursuing A Claim?
The Attorneys General website has this to say on the matter of how much the settlement payments will be:
– – – – –
At this time, it is unknown exactly how much of the Settlement Fund a purchaser of E-books will receive. The Attorneys General have submitted a “plan of distribution,” which is a plan to divide the Settlement Fund among consumers. The Court will determine whether to approve this plan when considering final approval of the Settlements. If the Court approves the plan of distribution, it will be posted on the Settlement Website.
The amount of your credit or check will be affected by how many qualifying E-books you purchased. There will be two levels of payments, based on categories of books. While the exact amount to be paid per E-book in each category is not yet finalized, the best estimates of payments for each E-book you purchased are as follows:
– – – – –
But note, this is assuming a large number of eligible consumers file a claim. The fewer claims filed, the larger the individual payments will be.
Still, it doesn’t seem likely that consumers will receive any more than a couple bucks per eligible ebook. Since most affected consumers paid more than a couple dollars extra per eligible book during the period when prices were illegally inflated, it’s not really complete restitution.
People Who Only Bought From Amazon Don’t Have To Do Anything – Their Refunds Are Automatic
People who only ever bought their ebooks from Amazon have it the easiest, because Amazon has taken the initiative to pro-actively issue refunds to affected customers. They’ve also provided a full page of information all about it right on their site: click here to view the Amazon Ebooks Settlement Page.
**UPDATE – CORRECTION** Those who purchased eligible ebooks from Apple, B&N or Kobo are also supposed to be receiving refunds or store credits directly from those vendors, without any outside claim processing requirement. If you believe you’re eligible for a refund from one of these vendors and have yet to receive your notification or refund information, contact the vendor’s customer service department for more assistance.
But If You Bought Ebooks From Some Other Seller…
Unfortunately, you’re out of luck.
**UPDATED – CORRECTION**
On the File A Claim page of the State Attorneys General E-book Settlements website, it says the claim filing deadline for ebook purchases made from vendors other than Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble or Kobo was 12/31/12. If your ebook purchases were from Google, Sony or any retailer other than Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble or Kobo, then yes, the deadline to file a claim was 12/31/12 and it has passed. Thanks to commenters here and on Facebook for pointing out my error.
Again, if your eligible ebook purchases were from Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble or Kobo, then it is not necessary to file a claim and those vendors are supposed to be providing refund information and instructions directly to their customers. If you believe you’re eligible for a refund from one of these vendors and have yet to receive your notification or refund information, contact the vendor’s customer service department for more assistance.
If you bought eligible ebooks from any other retailer, and feel it’s worthwhile to file a claim, you’ll have to visit the State Attorneys General E-book Settlements website, and specifically, you’ll need to check out the File A Claim page there. Since part of the claims-filing process involves reporting eligible ebook purchases, the AG site also provides a very helpful Retailer Account Information page with links to information about how to access your ebook purchase history from various retailers.
So while the ebooks price fixing case may have started with a bang, it’s going out with a whimper. Even though the publishers have agreed to stop illegally inflating their ebook prices and have paid fines into a settlement fund, that period when prices were illegally inflated raised the bar on ebook pricing in general. The average price of a NYT bestselling ebook from a large publisher is now higher than the $9.99 price point Amazon tried so hard to establish, so in the end, whether we get any refunds or not, we all lose.
**UPDATED TO ADD**
I also think it’s pretty lame that all claims for refunds on ebooks purchased from any vendor other than Amazon, B&N, Apple or Kobo had to be filed by 12/31/12 when the settlement was only reached at the end of May of that year, and it’s not like much effort was made to publicize the settlement so that consumers would know action was required.
All I can say is, ebook fans now have more reason than ever to seek out books from small, independent publishers. Those publishers never conspired to artificially, illegally inflate ebook prices, and they’re still keeping their prices reasonable even as most of the big publishers involved in the price fixing case routinely price their new ebook releases from major authors at $12.99.