Bookstores file class action against Amazon, et al.

I am so antagonistic to Amazon, I was distressed when the Big Six publishers lost their lawsuit against the monopolistic monster. But today’s Publisher’s Marketplace is making me feel a whole lot better. Especially because, when I do buy books, I trot two blocks to Three Lives & Company, a wonderful little independent bookstore that somehow always has precisely what I want to read. And if they don’t have it, they’ll order it for me.
Here’s the news:

Apparently the book business and litigation will be increasingly intertwined, with the latest unexpected lawsuit coming from three independent booksellers. Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany; Posman Books of NYC; and Fiction Addition of South Carolina filed a suit in New York Federal Court on February 15 seeking class action status on behalf of hundreds “independent brick-and-mortar bookstores who sell e-books.” They are suing Amazon and the six largest trade publishers, claiming “unreasonable restraint of trade and commerce in the market for e-books,” and also charge Amazon with attempted monopolization of the ebook market and violations of sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act. The booksellers are asking the court to force the removal of Amazon’s proprietary DRM from ebooks published by the big six, to be replaced by an “open source DRM” that would allow files sold by independent stores to be readable on Kindle devices (without the multiple steps now required to make such a transfer).

By the lawsuit’s account, the reason independents have not made a dent in ebook market is because of Amazon’s proprietary AZW DRM–“specifically designed to limit the use of digital content after sale for all of the e-books published by the big six”–and because “none of the Big Six have entered into any agreements with any independent brick and mortar bookstores or independent collectives to sell their ebooks.” The prior arrangement with Google eBooks, which only sold through independents when it was established, and the current initiative between Kobo and the ABA apparently do not meet the standard of an agreement with an “independent collective.”

Attorney for the plaintiffs Alyson Decker at Blecher & Collins in Los Angeles said the suit names the Big Six but not other publishers who also have standard DRMs applied to their ebooks because the largest companies “collectively dominate the market share” and were “some of the first to enter into contracts with Amazon.” Decker indicated that arrangements with Kobo, Google and others have not been direct sales arrangements with the publishers and said that independent bookstores are “basically trying to get that same sort of ability” that they have with print books, in which they can transact business directly with the publishers (and, presumably receive the most favorable discount available), “transferred over to ebooks.”

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