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Publishers agree to $69 million settlement over e-Book pricing

If you purchased an e-Book from Hachette, Harper Collins or Simon & Schuster between April 2010 and May of this year, you can pretty much count on seeing some money back from your purchase, as the three publishers have finally reached an agreement on a settlement amount to be paid to customers after settling with authorities over charges of price-fixing electronic releases earlier this year.

While the US Department of Justice is still pursuing legal action against Apple, Penguin and Macmillan over accusations of the publishers coming to an illegal agreement with Apple over the price of releases offered on iBooks – Attorneys representing the two publishers and Apple are due in court in June next year to contest the charges – Hachette, Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster quickly moved to settle after charges were filed against all parties last April. As a result of that settlement, it was announced today that the three publishers have agreed to contribute a collective $69,000,000 to a fund for customers affected by the alleged price-fixing.

The announcement was made by Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper today. In a statement, his office said that “Attorney General Cooper and 54 attorneys general in other states, districts and U.S. territories have reached an antitrust settlement with three of the largest book publishers in the United States,” with the settlement the end result of a two-year investigation by the states and the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “That investigation developed evidence that the five largest American publishers… conspired to end e-Book retailers’ freedom to compete on price by taking control of pricing from e-Book retailers and substantially increasing the prices that consumers paid for e-Books,” the statement continued, suggesting that such actions “prevented retail price competition resulting in consumers paying millions of dollars more for their e-books.”

“This collective action should send a strong message that competitors cannot get away with price-fixing,” Attorney General Cooper is quoted as saying in the announcement, adding “We will do everything within our power to stop competitors from colluding to artificially raise the costs the prices by millions of dollars more for some of the most popular e-Book titles.”

In addition to the $69 million fund, the three publishers have agreed to cover the legal expenses of the states bringing the charges against them, estimated to be somewhere in the region of $7.5 million, and also to terminate existing agreements with specific retailers including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, a move that will allow retailers the ability to reduce e-Book pricing at their own discretion. Additionally, the agreement prohibits the sharing of “competitively sensitive information” regarding e-Book pricing with competitors for a five year period, as well as making forbidden any kind of Most Favored Nation clause that “could undermine the effectiveness of the settlement agreement.”

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