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Customers receive credits from e-books case and yawn

A man reads the bible from an iPad mini at the "Christ is the Answer International Ministries" group's camp near Florence February 2, 2013.
A man reads the bible from an iPad mini at the "Christ is the Answer International Ministries" group's camp near Florence February 2, 2013.

By Andrew Longstreth

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In the end, one of the highest-profile antitrust cases in years failed to make much of an impression on some of the very people the lawsuit was meant to benefit.

Customers of Amazon.com Inc and other e-book retailers on Tuesday began receiving notices of their shares of a $166 million settlement with five of the biggest book publishers, all accused of conspiring with Apple Inc to raise e-book prices.

For many customers, the sums took the form of credits to be spent on books through various e-book retailers, including Amazon's Kindle Store.

Many were underwhelmed with their new found loot, and hundreds who received their credits from Amazon took to social media to deride their paltry share. Many reported receiving less than $10 and as little as 73 cents.

"I got 73 cents LOL hey that's almost a book!!" tweeted one.

Tweeted another: "I got a whopping $5.11 from the US vs. Apple et al. ebook antitrust case. Glad to know these lawsuits really help the little people."

The settlement with the publishers resulted from lawsuits filed in 2011 and 2012 by the U.S. Justice Department, state attorneys general and private attorneys. Private class counsel who represented 23 states in the publisher settlements were awarded more than $10 million in legal fees.

The lawsuits accused the publishers and Apple of conspiring to raise the prices of e-books and undercut Amazon's e-book dominance. The scheme caused some e-book prices to rise to $12.99 or $14.99 from the $9.99 that the online retailer charged, the suits alleged.

DAMAGES TRIAL FOR APPLE

Apple, which has not settled, faces a May trial date to determine the damages it owes. Last year, a federal district court judge found the company liable for its role in the alleged scheme.

Counsel for the class that brought the suit have defended the settlements with the publishers for collecting more than 50 percent of the alleged damages and say they still hope to win more from Apple.

The settlement with the publishers means a large chunk of the $166 million they paid has been funneled to the coffers of e-book retailers, including Amazon, which has the largest share of e-book sales.

Under the terms of the settlement with the publishers, eligible consumers include anyone who bought one of the defendants' e-books between April 1, 2010, and May 21 2012.

The amount received depends on how many books a customer bought that were published by defendants. Customers are eligible to receive $3.17 for each New York Times bestseller and $0.73 for each non-New York Times bestseller.

The settling publishers were Macmillan, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, Hachette Book Group Inc, Simon & Schuster Inc, and HarperCollins Publishers LLC.

Consumers were given until October 21, 2013, to request a check instead of credits. But even some who opted to receive a check could not because retailers in some instances were unable to link the identification of the claimant with a store account. In those cases, the consumers were instead provided store credits.

Amazon on its website apologized for any inconvenience caused by the issue and said it hoped consumers would use their credits and "enjoy the wide variety of Kindle book or print books available".

(Reporting by Andrew Longstreth; Editing by Eric Effron and Howard Goller)

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