Col. AG, 54 others settle with ebook publishers

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, along with 54 other attorneys general of 54 states, districts and U.S. territories, said the group reached an agreement in an antitrust suit with three of the largest book publishers in the United States.

Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC and Simon & Schuster Inc. have agreed to pay a total of more than $69 million to consumers to resolve antitrust claims that they illegally conspired to fix the prices of electronic books. The companies also agreed to change the way they price e-books in the future.

“We will not tolerate publishers colluding to overcharge consumers millions of dollars for some of the most popular e-books,” said Suthers. “Today’s settlement paves the way for consumers to receive restitution and promotes retail competition in the e-book market. Through our ongoing litigation against the remaining defendants, we hope to provide additional restitution to victimized consumers.”

The state’s separate lawsuit against Apple, Macmillan and Penguin is continuing before the U.S. District Court for the southern district of New York. Those three publishers are not part of the announced settlement.

Under the proposed agreement, Hatchette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster will compensate consumers who purchased certain e-books during the period of April 1, 2010 to May 21, 2012. Payments will start 30 days after the court approval of the settlement. Consumers will be notified by the retailer about the amounts they will receive, and the options for receiving payments and credits. Consumers are expected to receive about $1.5 million in total compensation. Defendants will pay $7.5 million to the settling states for fees and costs.

In addition, the three will terminate agreements with retailers, requiring the publishers to grant retailers like Amazon or Barnes and Noble the freedom to reduce prices of their e-book titles. For two years, they will be prohibited from making any new agreements that constrain retailers’ abilities to offer discounts.