IP & Copyright
Federal Judge Approves Apple E-Book Settlement
Last week, Federal Judge Denise Cote approved a class action settlement agreement in which Apple may begin paying $400 million dollars to as many as 23 million consumers. The suit regarded antitrust law violations that it committed when it conspired to raise e-book prices with book publishers.
According to Publishers Weekly, the settlement terms are as follows:
Apple will pay $400 million to consumers only if the liability finding survives the appeal process; it will pay $50 million if the liability question is vacated or remanded for further proceedings. If the liability finding is reversed on appeal, Apple will pay nothing.
The actions that precipitated the lawsuit started a few years ago. Before 2010, the big-6 publishers (now the big-5 publishers since the Penguin-Random House merger) used the wholesale model to sell e-books. Under the wholesale model, publishers recommended a retail price to a wholesaler and sold the book to the wholesaler for a certain percentage off the publisher’s recommended retail price. The wholesaler then sold the book to the retailer, who set its own e-book prices. For example, a publisher could set a recommended retail price for a book of $15.99, sell the book to the wholesaler for a fifty percent discount of $7.99, and the retailer could then sell the book at $10.99.
Amazon then began selling e-books at $9.99, and publishers initially had trouble competing. In 2010, Apple convinced the big-6 publishers to change business models, and the publishers entered into the agency model. Under the agency model, publishers set the retail price of an e-book and use retailers as agents to sell the e-book. The retailer then receives thirty percent of the sales price of the e-book, and the publisher receives the remaining seventy percent. For example, a publisher can set a retail e-book price at $15.99, and the retailer must sell the e-book at $15.99; however, the retailer receives thirty percent of the sales price, and the publisher receives the remaining seventy percent.
The Department of Justice soon accused five of the big-6 publishers and Apple of fixing e-book prices to thwart Amazon’s $9.99 e-book price, and the publishers and Apple were later found guilty of violating the Sherman Act. Penguin, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon and Schuster paid $75 million, $31 million, $25 million, $19 million, and $17 million in damages respectively to e-book consumers, for a grand total of roughly $167 million in damages.
The potential $400 million class action settlement with Apple is in addition to the $167 million paid in damages by the publishers, so all eyes in the publishing industry will be focused on the Second Circuit on when it hears Apple’s appeal on December 15..
This class action settlement comes at an interesting time in the book publishing industry. As part of the original DOJ antitrust settlement, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon Schuster ended their contracts with e-book retailers like Amazon and allowed retailers to renegotiate the contracts. Moreover, the settlement allowed retailers to return to the wholesale model, and the three publishers also agreed to not interfere with price discounts for two years. Now, Hachette and Simon and Schuster have entered into separate agreements with Amazon concerning e-book prices.
Apple and the publishers are undoubtedly hoping for a reversal, but I don’t think that is likely. We will just have to see what happens.