iBooks Settlement — I Win!

I am happy to report that I am in for some money that I never expected to see.

Yes, it’s true; I’m a beneficiary of the big iBooks settlement. It had been appealed to the Supreme Court, which refused in March to reconsider the case, and now Apple is distributing $450 million in proceeds.

The Issue

The hoo-haw is about a single charge: that Apple conspired with several major publishing houses to try to force Amazon to raise its prices for Kindle books between 2010 and 2012. During that effort, Apple raised prices on its iBooks.

This was during a period when books were sold by stores, by Apple, by Nook and by Amazon, which sounds to me like a good range of competition. Apple execs and book publishers seemed to believe that Amazon was selling books at less than cost on Kindle in order to gain market share.

(One good question is what the market cost is for a digitally transmitted book. The marginal cost would be pennies at most. It appears that authors collected about 15 percent of the price paid by consumers. This would seem to leave a fair amount to be divided between marketers like iBook/Kindle and publishing houses, whatever the price. Another question is what the heck publishing houses DO these days.)

Anyway, the whole anti-trust effort was aimed at destroying Amazon’s flat $9.99 price per book on Kindle.

Interestingly, if the collusion failed, it certainly seems to have had the desired result.

Now all e-books are MUCH more expensive. A Wall Street Journal article last year reported an 11-cent price differential between paper and digital copies of one best seller. Certainly I’ve observed a rise in e-book prices.

So Apple is being punished for trying to raise digital book prices, but book prices are much higher anyway. Strange how these things work.


Our Protectors

The heroes of this story — 33 state attorneys general and wonderful, high-minded trial lawyers — stepped up to stick it to Apple and the publishers and to protect us little people.

Here’s how one of the lawyers, Steve Berman from a self-described “national class action law firm,” Hagens Berman, described the triumph in a release last week:

“Apple was caught red-handed orchestrating this scheme to inflate the prices of e-books, and we believe this case is a true testament to the tangible benefits the law can bring consumers.”


The Spoils

I’m happy to be collecting from this lawsuit because, before it was filed and settled, I hadn’t realized that I had been a victim of the Apple “scheme.”

The compensation for my suffering is $1.57.

Others in the aggrieved class will receive the rest of the $400 million — some in increments as high as $20.

As for the rest of the money, $20 million will go to the 33 states whose attorneys joined the lawsuit.

The final amount — $30 million, the biggest chunk by far — will go to the aforementioned lawyer’s law firm. Remember he’s the one who called the settlement “a true testament to the tangible benefits the law can bring consumers.”

Let’s review:

1. Apple was sued for colluding to increase digital book prices.

2. Digital book prices went up anyway.

3. A bunch of court time was wasted negotiating a “deal” that included a fine that amounted to spare change for Apple.

4. Ostensible victims will collect de minimis awards.

5. Trial lawyers get $30 million.

Sometimes I wonder whether number 5 wasn’t the point of the entire exercise.


Next Up

Last month came news that may turn into another money award. Starbucks is being sued for giving customers lattes in smaller than advertised sizes.

I drink lattes occasionally at Starbucks. If this new action swings my way, I’m thinking I could collect even more in this settlement. Maybe $2.50.

It’s only fair given the suffering I have endured, even if I was unaware of it.

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